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Empty desk array at UN spotlights lost learning in pandemic

September 17, 2021 GMT
UNICEF unveiled its art installation 'No Time to Lose,' featuring a counting clock on a blackboard of an empty classroom, displaying in real-time the 1.8 trillion hours – and counting – of lost in-person learning around the world since the pandemic's onset, Friday Sept. 17, 2021 at U.N. headquarters. The installation will be on display throughout the course of the 76th session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA). (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)
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UNICEF unveiled its art installation 'No Time to Lose,' featuring a counting clock on a blackboard of an empty classroom, displaying in real-time the 1.8 trillion hours – and counting – of lost in-person learning around the world since the pandemic's onset, Friday Sept. 17, 2021 at U.N. headquarters. The installation will be on display throughout the course of the 76th session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA). (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)
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UNICEF unveiled its art installation 'No Time to Lose,' featuring a counting clock on a blackboard of an empty classroom, displaying in real-time the 1.8 trillion hours – and counting – of lost in-person learning around the world since the pandemic's onset, Friday Sept. 17, 2021 at U.N. headquarters. The installation will be on display throughout the course of the 76th session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA). (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — While world leaders converge on the U.N. headquarters next week, the coronavirus will be on the agenda — and a set of empty, backpack-draped chairs and desks will symbolize what the pandemic has done to education.

In front of the desks, a blackboard-like display will count the number of in-person class hours lost during the pandemic: over 1.8 trillion and growing, according to UNICEF, the U.N. children’s arm. It arranged the installation, unveiled Friday, on the headquarters grounds to urge leaders to prioritize reopening schools.

“Next week, the United Nations will open its doors to delegations from around the world. But in many countries, the doors of schools will remain closed to children and young people,” U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said in a statement. “We are short-changing an entire generation.”

UNICEF says about 131 million children have missed out on three-quarters of their in-person instruction since March 2020, and nearly 77 million of them have missed almost all of it.

Schools are still fully or partially closed in about 27% of countries, according to the agency.