With more than one billion children across 160 countries already missing school this year, the United Nations predicts nearly 24 million will never return to formal education after the coronavirus crisis subsides.
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres on Tuesday said COVID-19 "has led to the largest disruption of education ever."
"Now we face a generational catastrophe that could waste untold human potential, undermine decades of progress, and exacerbate entrenched inequalities," Guterres said.
He added that even before the pandemic arrived the world faced a "learning crisis." Well over 250 million children were out of school, and only 25% of students in developing countries were leaving secondary school with "basic skills."
According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization, close to 24 million children in 180 countries are at risk of dropping out of school due to the financial repercussions of the pandemic.
"We are at a defining moment for the world's children and young people," Guterres said. "The decisions that governments and partners take now will have lasting impact on hundreds of millions of young people and on the development prospects of countries for decades to come."
Prior to the pandemic, low and middle income countries were already battling an education funding gap of $1.5 trillion annually. According to Guterres, this amount could increase by as much as 30% globally because of the pandemic.