COVID-19 impact on Education
by Rijul Singh Uppal on 22 Sep 2020 0 Comment

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) estimates that globally One billion (1) children are at risk of falling behind due to school closures caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Schools in countries that have enforced school closures have implemented distance learning programs in order to keep children within the ambit of the formal education system. However, as UNICEF estimates, many children in economically weaker households do not have internet access, personal computers or even radios.


Based on a joint survey of UNESCO-UNICEF-World Bank on National Education Responses to COVID-19 School Closures (June-July 2020), along-with micro-data from Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS) and Demographic and Health Survey (DHS), UNICEF analyzed (2) that policy measures taken by governments to ensure continued learning have reached potentially 69 per cent of schoolchildren globally. This means that a staggering 31 per cent of schoolchildren globally lack access to remote learning schemes.


While these numbers are based entirely upon access to educational resources, they do not account for children who might be unable to utilize the resources due to skill gaps and/or lack of support. Data also indicates that children in rural settings comprise the vast majority of those who are unable to derive benefit from any of the distance learning systems. Overall three out of four students left out of these modalities are living in rural areas. These figures may be higher in lower-income countries. The report also indicates that only 60 per cent countries provided remote learning for the pre-primary educational level.


Interestingly, the report of the Committee for the Coordination of Statistical Activities (CCSA), “How COVID-19 is changing the world: A Statistical Perspective” (3) highlights that less than half of households globally have access to internet. While 73 per cent of urban households have a television, only 38 per cent of rural households do so, and while 53 per cent of urban households have a radio, that number is reduced to 42 per cent for rural households. UNICEF’s MICS6 (2017-2019) data also indicates that students aged 5-17 years with internet access at home accounted for just 38 per cent in Bangladesh, 15 per cent in Sierra Leone, and less than two per cent each in Laos PDR and Congo DR. The situation is therefore alarming.


A World Ready to Learn – Global Report (2019)” of UNICEF indicates that 175 million children globally are not enrolled in pre-primary education, and of those enrolled, UNICEF is concerned that the pandemic would have played havoc with children belonging to low and lower-middle-income households or households where the parental figure lacks the skills to engage a child’s mind. Based on these Gross Enrolment Ratios, the 2019 report stated that more than half of low- and lower-middle-income countries would not achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) target of universal pre-primary education by 2030. COVID-19 has only added to that setback to the 2030 SDG’s.


Similarly, the 2020 Global Education Monitoring Report of UNESCO shows that more than a quarter of a billion “children and young people” have been left behind and are totally excluded from the education systems around the world. The pandemic has only made this problem worse. The report points out that about 40 per cent of low-income and lower-middle-income countries did not support learners at risk of exclusion such as those living in remote areas, the poor, linguistic minorities and learners with disabilities. The report has highlighted how the pandemic increased the risk of marginalized students disengaging further from education.


In addition to the annual dropout rates, UNESCO estimates that nearly 24 million additional children and youth (from pre-primary to tertiary) may drop out or not have access to school next year due to the pandemic’s economic impact alone. This number could also be higher as school closures – hampering essential provisions and services to children – could also make girls vulnerable to child marriage and other types of abuse which would then reduce their chances of continuing formal education.


Schoolchildren, especially at pre-primary and primary level, those who are lacking access to remote learning programs and with limited-to-no means to continue education are at the risk of never returning to school and being excluded from formal education. Considering the impact of discontinuing learning on young developing minds of pre-primary and primary level children, it is important for countries to formulate new policies and legislation to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 pandemic on early childhood learning and development. The proposed new policies and legislation must include a resilient approach including multiple delivery channels for remote learning to fill the gaps in education of children impacted by COVID-19.


Inter-Governmental Organizations working in the field of school education must intensify their advocacy with local governments to develop a new education strategy and plan for sustainable interventions to ensure that every child is able to continue school education. This strategy should also stress adjusting curriculum to fill the gap of the lost period of learning and accordingly imparting new skills/training to the teachers.


Community involvement is an important factor for the success of a new approach during the post-COVID period for continuation of the child’s education. The advocacy meetings and social mobilization must be emphasized to ensure that every child returns to school. National campaigns with active participation of stakeholder’s must be conducted to influence behavioural change of parents and community and also to build an environment in favour of continuation of education.


The author is a freelancer

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