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At UN, leaders confront COVID’s impact on global education

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At UN, leaders confront COVID’s impact on global education

With COVID-related school disruptions setting back children around the world, activists implored world leaders Monday to prioritize school systems and restore educational budgets slashed when the pandemic hit.

The summit on transforming education, held at the U.N. General Assembly ahead of the annual leaders’ meeting, was expected to produce commitments from the world’s nations to ensure that children everywhere from sub-Saharan Africa to the United States don’t fall too far behind.

“Seven years ago, I stood on this platform hoping that the voice of a teenage girl who took a bullet in standing up for her education would be heard,” said Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Malala Yousafzai, a U.N. messenger of peace. ”On that day, countries, corporates, civil society, all of us committed to work together to see every child in schools by 2030. It is heartbreaking that halfway through that target date, we are facing an education emergency.”

Nigerian youth activist Karimot Odebode was more pointed. “We demand you take responsibility,” Odebode told the General Assembly. “We will not stop until every person in every village and every highland has access to an education.”

The percentage of 10-year-old children in poor and middle-income countries who cannot read a simple story increased to an estimated 70% — up 13 percentage points since before the pandemic shuttered classrooms, according to a report from the World Bank, UNESCO and UNICEF.

Will the world’s leaders do enough to help their youngest citizens learn to read and gain the other skills they need to thrive? It will require addressing systemic problems that existed before the pandemic, dignitaries and students say. Countries will need to increase spending, change policies to increase access for girls and disabled students, and modernize instruction to stress critical thinking rather than rote memorization.

“This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity for us to radically transform education,” U.N. Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed told reporters ahead of the education summit at U.N. headquarters in New York. “We owe it to the coming generation if we don’t want to witness the emergence of a generation of misfits.”

When COVID-19 closed schools around the world in spring 2020, many children simply stopped learning — some for months, others for longer. For many, there was no such thing as remote learning. More than 800 million young people around the world lacked internet access at home, according to a study by UNICEF and the International Telecommunication Union in December 2020.

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More recent studies underscore the pandemic’s lasting effects. “The learning losses from COVID were enormous,” Mohammed said.

The amount of time school buildings were closed because of COVID-19 varied widely around the world. At the extreme, schools in parts of Latin America and South Asia were closed for 75 weeks or longer, according to UNESCO. In parts of the United States, including cities such as Chicago and Los Angeles, schools operated remotely from March 2020 through most of the 2020-2021 school year.

There also were huge variations in the availability and quality of remote learning. In some countries, students stuck at home had access to paper packets, or radio and television programs, or almost nothing at all. Others had access to the internet and video conferences with teachers.

The estimated learning delays on average ranged from over 12 months of school for students in South Asia to less than four for students in Europe and Central Asia, according to an analysis by consulting firm McKinsey & Company.

Most of the world’s classrooms are now back open, but 244 million school-age children are still out of school, UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay said during the summit, citing data from the U.N. education agency. Most of those children — 98 million — live in sub-Saharan Africa, followed by Central and Southern Asia, in a reminder of the deep inequalities that persist in access to education, she said.

In many places, money is the key ingredient for stemming the crisis, if not fully reaching the leaders’ lofty goal of “transforming education.” “Education financing must be a priority for governments,” U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told the General Assembly on Monday. “It is the single most important investment any country can make in its people and its future.”

On average wealthy countries invest $8,000 a year per school-aged child, compared to upper middle income countries, like some in Latin America, that invest $1,000 per year, according to a report from UNESCO and Global Education Monitoring. Lower income countries allot roughly $300 a year and some poor countries, just $50 a year per student.

Rich countries should also step up spending, said Guterres. In recent years, Germany, France and the United States have given the most international aid towards education in low-income countries, according to a 2021 Center for Global Development report. The United States invested more than $1.5 billion annually from 2017-2019, according to the report based on the most recent available data.

As top dignitaries urged individual countries to prioritize their youngest citizens, it was some of the youngest attendees at the summit who aired the most skepticism towards any prospect of change. After all, the U.N. lacks any authority to force countries to spend more on schooling.

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Yousafzai urged countries to devote 20% of their budgets toward education. “Most of you know what exactly needs to be done,” she said. “You must not make small, stingy and short-term pledges.”

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The Associated Press education team receives support from the Carnegie Corporation of New York. The AP is solely responsible for all content. Follow Bianca Vázquez Toness on Twitter at http://twitter.com/biancavtoness and Jocelyn Gecker at http://twitter.com/jgecker

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Remember last year’s Memorial Day travel jams? Chances are they will be much worse this year

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Remember last year’s Memorial Day travel jams? Chances are they will be much worse this year

The patience of Memorial Day weekend travelers was tested Thursday by widespread delays across the country, but there were relatively few canceled flights, raising hopes that airlines can handle bigger crowds expected Friday.

By early evening on the East Coast, more than 6,000 flights had been delayed Thursday, with the biggest backups at the three major airports in the New York City area and Dallas-Fort Worth International.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pasha Pidlubniak waits for a domestic flight at Miami International Airport, Thursday, May 23, 2024, in Miami. A record number of Americans are expected to travel over the 2024 Memorial Day holiday. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

 

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Pasha Pidlubniak waits for a domestic flight at Miami International Airport, Thursday, May 23, 2024, in Miami. A record number of Americans are expected to travel over the 2024 Memorial Day holiday. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

 

The Transportation Security Administration predicted that Friday will be the busiest day for air travel over the holiday weekend, with nearly 3 million people expected to pass through airport checkpoints. It could rival the record of 2.9 million, set on the Sunday after Thanksgiving last year.

“Airports are going to be more packed than we have seen in 20 years,” said Aixa Diaz, a spokesperson for AAA.

When they aren’t waiting out flight delays, travelers are reporting sticker shock at the prices.

At Chicago’s O’Hare Airport, Larisa Latimer of New Lenox, Illinois, said her airfare was reasonable but other expenses for a getaway to New Orleans were not.

 

 

 

 

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Motorists travel along Interstate 24 near the Interstate 40 interchange Thursday, May 23, 2024, in Nashville, Tenn. A record number of Americans are expected to hit the pavement over the 2024 Memorial Day holiday. (AP Photo/George Walker IV)

 

Motorists travel along Interstate 24 near the Interstate 40 interchange Thursday, May 23, 2024, in Nashville, Tenn. A record number of Americans are expected to hit the pavement over the 2024 Memorial Day holiday. (AP Photo/George Walker IV)

 

“I just have to make the accommodation,” she said. “The rental car is up … this year, the hotel accommodations were very unusually expensive.”

Kathy Larko of Fort Meyers, Florida, used frequent-flyer miles — and some flexible scheduling — to pay for her trip to Chicago.

“I’m really conscious of looking at the cost of the entire trip. We’re staying a little farther out than we normally would” to get a lower hotel rate, she said. “We’re also flying back a day later, because we could get cheaper miles.”

More travelers will be on the road. AAA estimates that 43.8 million people will venture at least 50 miles (80 kilometers) from home between Thursday and Monday, with 38 million of them taking vehicles.

 
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Travelers wait at a TSA checkpoint at the Los Angeles International Airport, Thursday, May 23, 2024, in Los Angeles. A record number of Americans are expected to travel over the 2024 Memorial Day holiday. (AP Photo/Ryan Sun)

 

Travelers wait at a TSA checkpoint at the Los Angeles International Airport, Thursday, May 23, 2024, in Los Angeles. A record number of Americans are expected to travel over the 2024 Memorial Day holiday. (AP Photo/Ryan Sun)

 

Airport unions are using the holiday weekend to highlight their demands.

About 100 workers who clean airplane cabins and drive trash trucks at the airport in Charlotte, North Carolina, started a 24-hour strike Thursday, demanding better pay and healthcare, according to the Service Employees International Union. About 15% of flights were delayed, but it was unclear whether the strike played any role.

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A planned strike at John F. Kennedy Airport in New York was averted, however. Teamsters Local 553, which represents about 300 workers who refuel passenger and cargo jets at JFK, said that it reached a settlement with Allied Aviation Services and called off a walkout planned for Friday.

 

 

 

 

 

 

George Ridley, 4, left, rides on a suitcase as he and his father Chris Ridley make their way through the Nashville international Airport, Thursday, May 23, 2024, in Nashville, Tenn. A record number of Americans are expected to travel over the 2024 Memorial Day holiday. (AP Photo/George Walker IV)

 

George Ridley, 4, left, rides on a suitcase as he and his father Chris Ridley make their way through the Nashville international Airport, Thursday, May 23, 2024, in Nashville, Tenn. A record number of Americans are expected to travel over the 2024 Memorial Day holiday. (AP Photo/George Walker IV)

 

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“We are happy an agreement has been reached, a need for a strike averted, and we are hopeful that the deal will be ratified by our members,” said Demos Demopoulos, the secretary-treasurer of the local.

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Associated Press video journalist Melissa Perez Winder in Chicago and Associated Press radio reporter Shelley Adler in Washington contributed to this report.

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Texas health department appoints anti-abortion OB-GYN to maternal mortality committee

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Texas health department appoints anti-abortion OB-GYN to maternal mortality committee

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Texas’ health department has appointed an outspoken anti-abortion OB-GYN to a committee that reviews pregnancy-related deaths as doctors have been warning that the state’s restrictive abortion ban puts women’s lives at risk.

Dr. Ingrid Skop was among the new appointees to the Texas Maternal Morality and Morbidity Review Committee announced last week by the Texas Department of State Health Services. Her term starts June 1.

The committee, which compiles data on pregnancy-related deaths, makes recommendations to the Legislature on best practices and policy changes and is expected to assess the impact of abortion laws on maternal mortality.

Skop, who has worked as an OB-GYN for over three decades, is vice president and director of medical affairs for the Charlotte Lozier Institute, an anti-abortion research group. Skop will be the committee’s rural representative.

Skop, who has worked in San Antonio for most of her career, told the Houston Chronicle that she has “often cared for women traveling long distances from rural Texas maternity deserts, including women suffering complications from abortions.”

Texas has one of the most restrictive abortion bans in the U.S., and doctors have sought clarity on the state’s medical exemption, which allows an abortion to save a woman’s life or prevent the impairment of a major bodily function. Doctors have said the exemption is too vague, making it difficult to offer life-saving care for fear of repercussions. A doctor convicted of providing an illegal abortion in Texas can face up to 99 years in prison and a $100,000 fine and lose their medical license.

Skop has said medical associations are not giving doctors the proper guidance on the matter. She has also shared more controversial views, saying during a congressional hearing in 2021 that rape or incest victims as young as 9 or 10 could carry pregnancies to term.

Texas’ abortion ban has no exemption for cases of rape or incest.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, which says abortion is “inherently tied to maternal health,” said in a statement that members of the Texas committee should be “unbiased, free of conflicts of interest and focused on the appropriate standards of care.” The organization noted that bias against abortion has already led to “compromised” analyses, citing a research articles co-authored by Skop and others affiliated with the Charlotte Lozier Institute.

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Earlier this year a medical journal retracted studies supported by the Charlotte Lozier Institute claiming to show harms of the abortion pill mifepristone, citing conflicts of interests by the authors and flaws in their research. Two of the studies were cited in a pivotal Texas court ruling that has threatened access to the drug.

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Michigan farmworker diagnosed with bird flu, becoming 2nd US case tied to dairy cows

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Michigan farmworker diagnosed with bird flu, becoming 2nd US case tied to dairy cows

A Michigan dairy worker has been diagnosed with bird flu — the second human case associated with an outbreak in U.S. dairy cows.

The male worker had been in contact with cows at a farm with infected animals. He experienced mild eye symptoms and has recovered, U.S. and Michigan health officials said in announcing the case Wednesday.

A nasal swab from the person tested negative for the virus, but an eye swab tested Tuesday was positive for bird flu, “indicating an eye infection,” U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officials said.

The worker developed a “gritty feeling” in his eye earlier this month but it was a “very mild case,” said Dr. Natasha Bagdasarian, Michigan’s chief medical executive. He was not treated with oseltamivir, a medication advised for treating bird flu, she said.

The risk to the public remains low, but farmworkers exposed to infected animals are at higher risk, health officials said. They said those workers should be offered protective equipment, especially for their eyes.

Health officials say they do not know if the Michigan farmworker was wearing protective eyewear, but an investigation is continuing.

In late March, a farmworker in Texas was diagnosed in what officials called the first known instance globally of a person catching this version of bird flu from a mammal. That patient reported only eye inflammation and recovered.

Since 2020, a bird flu virus has been spreading among more animal species — including dogs, cats, skunks, bears and even seals and porpoises — in scores of countries.

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The detection in U.S. livestock earlier this year was an unexpected twist that sparked questions about food safety and whether it would start spreading among humans.

That hasn’t happened, although there’s been a steady increase of reported infections in cows. As of Wednesday, the virus had been confirmed in 51 dairy herds in nine states, according to the U.S. Agriculture Department. Fifteen of the herds were in Michigan.

The CDC’s Dr. Nirav Shah said the case was “not unexpected” and it’s possible more infections could be diagnosed in people who work around infected cows.

U.S. officials said they had tested 40 people since the first cow cases were discovered in late March. Michigan has tested 35 of them, Bagdasarian told The Associated Press in an interview.

Shah praised Michigan officials for actively monitoring farmworkers. He said health officials there have been sending daily text messages to workers exposed to infected cows asking about possible symptoms, and that the effort helped officials catch this infection. He said no other workers had reported symptoms.

That’s encouraging news, said Michael Osterholm, a University of Minnesota epidemiologist who has studied bird flu for decades. There’s no sign to date that the virus is causing flu-like illness or that it is spreading among people.

“If we had four or five people seriously ill with respiratory illness, we would be picking that up,” he said.

The virus has been found in high levels in the raw milk of infected cows, but government officials say pasteurized products sold in grocery stores are safe because heat treatment has been confirmed to kill the virus.

The new case marks the third time a person in the United States has been diagnosed with what’s known as Type A H5N1 virus. In 2022, a prison inmate in a work program picked it up while killing infected birds at a poultry farm in Montrose County, Colorado. His only symptom was fatigue, and he recovered. That predated the virus’s appearance in cows.

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The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Science and Educational Media Group. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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