The coronavirus pandemic has caused an “unprecedented education emergency” with up to 9.7 million children affected by school closures at risk of never going back to class, warned Save the Children Monday.

The British charity cited UNESCO data showing that in April, 1.6 billion young people were shut out of school and university due to measures to contain COVID-19 – about 90 percent of the world’s entire student population.

The charity’s report said: “For the first time in human history, an entire generation of children globally have had their education disrupted.”

The report listed 12 countries where children are most at risk of falling behind: Niger, Mali, Chad, Liberia, Afghanistan, Guinea, Mauritania, Yemen, Nigeria, Pakistan, Senegal and Ivory Coast.

Before the crisis, an estimated 258 million children and adolescents were already missing out on school, the charity said.

The report said the economic fall-out of the crisis could force an extra 90 to 117 million children into poverty, with a knock-on effect on school admissions.

With many young people required to work or girls forced into early marriage to support their families, this could see between seven and 9.7 million children dropping out of school permanently.

At the same time, the charity warned the crisis could leave a shortfall of $77 billion in education budgets in low and middle-income countries by the end of 2021.

The report said:

  • World is facing a hidden education emergency.
  • COVID-19 leaves estimated $77 billion gap in education spending for world’s poorest children.
  • Children in 12 countries are at extremely high risk of dropping out of school forever.
  • In another 28 countries, children are at moderate or high risk of not going back to school.
  • Girls are at increased exposure to gender-based violence and risk of child marriage and teen pregnancy during school closures.

“Around 10 million children may never return to school — this is an unprecedented education emergency and governments must urgently invest in learning,” Save the Children chief executive Inger Ashing said.

“Instead we are at risk of unparalleled budget cuts which will see existing inequality explode between the rich and the poor, and between boys and girls.”

The charity urged governments and donors to invest more funds behind a new global education plan to help children back into school when it is safe and until then support distance learning.

“We know the poorest, most marginalized children who were already the furthest behind have suffered the greatest loss, with no access to distance learning – or any kind of education – for half an academic year,” Ashing said.

Save the Children also urged commercial creditors to suspend debt repayments for low-income countries – a move it said could free up $14 billion for education programs.

“If we allow this education crisis to unfold, the impact on children’s futures will be long lasting,” Ashing said.

“The promise the world has made to ensure all children have access to a quality education by 2030, will be set back by years,” she said, citing the UN goal.

Unprecedented global education emergency

The report called for increased funding of education, including conversion of debt liabilities into investment in children.

Deep budget cuts to education and rising poverty caused by the COVID-19 pandemic could force at least 9.7 million children out of school forever by the end of this year, with millions more falling behind in learning, Save the Children warns in the new report.

The report said: Girls are likely to be much worse affected than boys, with many forced into early marriage. As the impacts of the recession triggered by COVID-19 hits families, many children may be forced out of school and into labor markets.

In its report, Save the Children is calling for governments and donors to respond to this global education emergency by urgently investing in education as schools begin to reopen after months of lockdown.

The agency is also urging commercial creditors to suspend debt repayments by low-income countries – a move that could free up $14bn for investment in education.

The Save Our Education report reveals the devastating effects the COVID-19 outbreak is set to have on learning. In a mid-range budget scenario, the agency estimates that the recession will leave a shortfall of $77 billion in education spending in some of the poorest countries in the world over the next 18 months. In a worst-case scenario, under which governments shift resources from education to other COVID-19 response areas, that figure could climb to an astonishing $192 billion by the end of 2021.

The impending budget crunch comes after lockdown measures saw a peak of 1.6 billion children out of school, globally.

Ms Ashing said: “Around 10 million children may never return to school – this is an unprecedented education emergency and governments must urgently invest in learning. Instead, we are at risk of unparalleled budget cuts, which will see existing inequality, explode between the rich and the poor, and between boys and girls. We know the poorest, most marginalized children who were already the furthest behind have suffered the greatest loss, with no access to distance learning – or any kind of education – for half an academic year.”

Before the outbreak, 258 million children and adolescents[i] were already out of school. A Vulnerability Index in the report[ii] shows that in 12 countries, mainly in West and Central Africa but also including Yemen and Afghanistan, children are at extremely high risk of not returning to school after the lockdowns lift – especially girls.

In another 28 countries, children are at moderate or high risk of not going back to school and of the longer-term effects of widening inequalities. In total, Save the Children estimates that some 9.7 million children could be forced out of school by the end of this year.

Currently, more than 1 billion children[iii] are out of school due to the global pandemic. Aisha*, 15, from Ethiopia is one of them:

“Three months ago, things were very good for me. I was enjoying school in grade six. When we were in school, we used to play with our friends and learn. The school also used to provide us with a meal every day. Now after this virus, I cannot go to school, and I cannot see my friends. I miss my school and my friends so much.

“It has been nearly three months since schools were closed and like many of the children here, I spend most of my time looking after the livestock and I sometimes help my mother with household chores like cleaning and cooking.”

Many of the top-12 countries in the report’s index already have high out of school rates and a sharp divide in school attendance along wealth and gender lines. These factors are likely to be exacerbated by school closures, with girls and children from poverty-stricken families being hardest hit.

Children in these countries are also caught in a vicious cycle of risk: they face greater risks of being forced into child labor and, adolescent girls are especially at risk of gender-based violence, child marriage and teenage pregnancy, which increases the longer they are out of school. The same risks directly impact their ability to return to school at all. Combined with the sharp decrease of education spending, the COVID-19 outbreak could be a cruel blow for millions of children.

In many countries, Save the Children has provided distance learning materials such as books and home learning kits to support learners during lockdown, working closely with governments and teachers to provide lessons and support through radio, television, phone, social media and messaging apps.

Despite the efforts of governments and organizations, some 500 million children[iv] had no access to distance learning, and many of the poorest children may not have literate parents who can help them. Having lost out on months of learning, many children will struggle to catch up, raising the likelihood of drop out.

Save the Children warns that school closures have meant much more than education loss for many children – taking away safe places where children can play with friends, have meals and access health services, including services for their mental health. Teachers are often front-line responders and protectors for children who might suffer from abuse at home. With school closures, these safeguards fall away.

Inger Ashing said:

“If we allow this education crisis to unfold, the impact on children’s futures will be long lasting. The promise the world has made to ensure all children have access to a quality education by 2030, will be set back by years.”

“Governments should be putting the interests of children before the claims of creditors. Whether they live in a refugee camp in Syria, a conflict zone in Yemen, a crammed urban area, or remote rural village: all children have a right to learn, to develop, to build a better future than their parents might have had. Education is the basis for that, and we can’t afford to let COVID-19 get in the way.”

Save the Children urges governments and donors to ensure that out-of-school children have access to distance learning, and to protection services. Those who return to school should be able to do so in a safe and inclusive way, with access to school meals and health services. Learning assessments and catch up classes must be adapted so that children can make up for their lost learning.

To ensure this happens, Save the Children is calling for an increased funding of education, with $35 billion to be made available by the World Bank. National governments must make education a priority by producing and implementing COVID-19 education responses and recovery plans to ensure the most marginalized children are able to continue learning.

*Name changed for privacy reasons

[i] See:

http://uis.unesco.org/sites/default/files/documents/new-methodology-shows-258-million-children-adolescents-and-youth-are-out-school.pdf

[ii] We know that COVID-19 is likely to lead to an increase in the number of out-of-school children, either because children do not return to school when schools reopen, or they drop out because of the lost learning they have experienced whilst schools have been closed. We have calculated an index incorporating three critical vulnerabilities, which we believe are likely impact the likelihood of children dropping out of school: 1) Rate of children currently out of school (before COVID-19), 2) Equity gaps in out-of-school rates (wealth and gender), and 3) Learning outcomes.

[iii] Numbers as per July 1st 2020. See:

https://en.unesco.org/covid19/educationresponse

[iv] See:

https://gemreportunesco.wordpress.com/2020/05/15/distance-learning-denied/#more-12982


SIGN UP FOR COUNTERCURRENTS DAILY NEWSLETTER


 

Comments are closed.