For the first time in human history, an entire generation of children has had their education disrupted. By April 2020 to halt the spread of COVID-19, 1.6 billion learners globally, 90% of the entire student population, were out of school. A new report published by Save The Children has warned almost 10 million children may never again return to school following the impact of the coronavirus. The 100-year-old charity has stressed, “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”.
It is estimated the current pandemic will leave an estimated $77 billion shortfall in education spending for the world’s poorest children. According to the report, in a worst-case scenario, for “governments (that) shift resources from education to other COVID-19 response areas, that figure could climb to $192 billion by the end of 2021.” This astonishing figure could well be a reality according to the World Health Organisation (WHO). The WHO has warned the premature lifting of lockdown measures occurring globally threatens second and third waves of infection, which could be far more disastrous than the current predicament many countries find themselves in.
Save the Children warn 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/mental health services. Teachers are often the first responders and protectors for children who suffer abuse at home, with school closures and many now unable to afford or access education, these safeguards will disappear.
Before the outbreak, 258 million children were already out of school, and even when in school, many were not learning. According to the report, “53% of 10-year-olds in low to middle-income countries are not able to read well, increasing to 80% in low-income countries.” The report indicates, children in 12 countries, mainly in West and Central Africa but also countries such as Yemen and Pakistan, are extremely high risk of not returning to school once the pandemic eases. A further 28 countries are at moderate to high risk of not returning to school and will feel longer-term effects of widening inequalities, with girls especially at risk.
Adolescent girls will now face an increased risk of gender-based violence. Teenage pregnancy and being forced into child marriage increase longer girls are out of school, trapped in a vicious cycle of violence and poverty being denied the chance to fulfill their potential. Children living in conflict-affected areas are at risk of being forced into child labour, child prostitution, and recruited to armed groups and terrorist organizations.
Save The Children CEO Inger Ashing asserts “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.”
To ensure out of school children have access to distance learning and can safely return to school with learning assessments and catch up classes, there must be increased funding for the education sector. With $35 billion all ready to be made available by the World Bank, national governments must make education a priority in their COVID-19 recovery plans and to ensure the most marginalized children can continue learning.
The full report by Save The Children: https://resourcecentre.savethechildren.net/node/17871/pdf/save_our_education_0.pdf
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