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Outdoor Art Installation Calls Attention To Pandemic's School Closures

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

As President Biden pushes to get U.S. schools fully open soon, an art exhibit aims to help people visualize what it means that they're closed. The outdoor installation is called Pandemic Classroom. It's at the United Nations, and it represents closed schools around the world.

NOEL KING, HOST:

It features bright blue, unused school bags sitting at 168 empty desks. Every desk represents 1 million kids who have missed almost all classroom instruction because their schools were closed. Here's UNICEF's global chief of education, Robert Jenkins.

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ROBERT JENKINS: A hundred sixty-eight million is a very difficult number to kind of wrap your head around. It's just so large. So we thought this would be a useful way of at least getting some sense of what the scale of the crisis is.

INSKEEP: There's an even larger group of students, more than 213 million, who've missed at least three-quarters of classes since last March. A new UNICEF report reveals that Latin America and the Caribbean have had the longest school closures.

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JENKINS: With every day that goes by, these children will be falling farther and farther behind. And the most vulnerable are paying the heaviest price. And so our call is to prioritize the reopening of schools, for all actions to be taken, for that process to be done safely.

KING: Jenkins does say this time away from traditional school has encouraged educators to innovate. Teachers have had to figure out new ways to reach students and pay more attention to mental health and nutrition. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.