The first day of school has been delayed for an estimated 140 million children around the world due to Covid-19, UNICEF said in a new analysis.
For an estimated eight million of these students, the wait for their first day of in-person learning has been over a year and counting, as they live in places where schools have been closed throughout the pandemic.
"The first day of school is a landmark moment in a child's life -- setting them off on a life-changing path of personal learning and growth. Most of us can remember countless minor details - what clothes we wore, our teacher's name, who we sat next to. But for millions of children, that important day has been indefinitely postponed," said UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore.
In 2020, schools globally were fully closed for an average of 79 teaching days.
However, for 168 million students after the pandemic began, schools were shuttered for nearly the entire year.
Even now, many children are facing an unprecedented second year of disruption to their education.
In India, most schools have remained closed, affecting over 247 million children, for 15 months since March 2020.
The closure reportedly resulted in huge learning loss, missed hot cooked meals affecting nutritional levels, adverse impact on physical and mental health, and increasing risk to abuse.
There are also reports of rise in cases of child labour and child marriages.
Children's ability to read, write and do basic mathematics has suffered.
In addition to the digital divide, studies have suggested that remote learning is difficult for children in many places.
Dr Yasmin Ali Haque, the representative of UNICEF India said, "Safe re-opening of schools for all children, especially for the youngest is a priority. Children have faced a severe learning loss and cannot afford any more disruptions to their learning, their mental wellbeing, or to the many other school-based services on which they depend."
"Working together with parents, schools are needed to be made safe to bring all children back, including those most vulnerable and at risk of dropping out."
As per the UNICEF representative, despite the worldwide attempts, 29 per cent primary students could not participate in remote learning.
The World Bank estimates a loss of $10 trillion in earnings over time for the entire generation of students unless mitigation measures are implemented.
UNICEF has called for the reopening of schools for in-person learning as soon as possible.