The global COVID-19 pandemic has led to unprecedented levels of disruption to education, impacting over 90% of the world’s student population: 1.54 billion children, including 743 million girls. School closures and the wider socio-economic impacts of COVID-19 on communities and society also disrupt children’s and young people’s normal support systems, leaving them more vulnerable to illnesses and child protection risks such as physical and humiliating punishment, sexual and gender-based violence, child marriage, child labour, child trafficking and recruitment and use in armed conflict. Girls and other marginalised groups, particularly those in displaced settings, are particularly affected.
As governments prepare to reopen schools and other learning sites, ministries and school communities must minimise the risk of transmission of COVID-19 within learning spaces and address the learning inequalities and protection concerns exacerbated by COVID-19 school closures, particularly for girls and other marginalised groups.
Lessons learned from the COVID-19 school closures must inform disaster and emergency preparedness for future outbreaks of COVID-19 alongside other contextually specific hazards that might further jeopardize children’s rights to learn, be safe and survive. The school reopening process offers a unique multi-sectoral opportunity for governments and school communities to build back better, address gender inequalities and strengthen the resilience of the education system. An inclusive, participatory process can help bring all children and young people into school and leave no one behind.