Protect every child’s right to learn in the COVID-19 response and recovery
The school that 13-year-old Hawo from Somalia attends is closed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic – as are schools for nearly a billion children around the world.
It’s not the first time her education has been interrupted. When her village was hit by drought in 2017, Hawo’s family lost everything. Over the past three years, they settled into a new home and started to build a new life. Hawo went back to school and was happy to be learning again.
But now the COVID-19 pandemic has turned her life upside down once again.
Without access to a TV or radio in her village, Hawo has limited ways to continue her studies during school closures.
“I don’t know when we will be able to go back, so that I can continue my education and meet my friends,” she says. “This really worries me.”
THE BIGGEST GLOBAL EDUCATION EMERGENCY OF OUR LIFETIME
Today, Hawo’s hope for education, like the hopes of millions of other children around the world, is in grave jeopardy. In early April 2020, in an effort to halt the spread of COVID-19, an estimated 1.6 billion learners globally – 91% of the total – were out of school. For the first time in human history, an entire generation of children globally have had their education disrupted.
This emergency comes on top of an existing learning crisis. UNESCO’s most recent projections for Sustainable Development Goal 4 (SDG4) – a goodquality education for every last child – are dire: they predict almost no progress on reducing the number of children who are out of school by 2030. This equates to millions of children not going to school and not learning. And a generation of children consigned to poorer life chances.
Before the pandemic struck, 258 million children were out of school, including 130 million girls. And even when children were at school, many were not learning. 53% of 10-year-olds in low- and middle-income countries are not able to read well, increasing to 80% in low-income countries.4 With ten years left to achieve SDG4, the question as to how the world proposes to reduce the widening gaps between the rhetoric of the education commitments and the reality on the ground has taken on a new urgency.
The poorest and most marginalised children are at risk – especially from losing out on learning and not returning to the classroom.
Schools not only provide children with a space to learn. For many children school is also a safe place where they can receive meals, access healthcare, including mental health services, and play with their friends. Teachers can be children’s frontline responders and protectors. But with school closures, children are missing out on these essentials the school environment can offer.
As the virus begins to subside in some countries, early childhood centres and schools are beginning to reopen and children are returning. They face challenges in trying to learn in an environment where the virus still exists and where schools need to adapt to a new reality – physical distancing, learning in shifts, an increased focus on hygiene practices and concerns over children’s wellbeing.