World is facing an Education Emergency
by Save the Children, Education Cannot Wait, UNESCO
4:23am 2nd Aug, 2020
Deep budget cuts to education and rising poverty caused by the COVID-19 pandemic may 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 a new report.
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 labour 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 calling on commercial creditors to suspend debt repayments by low-income countries – a move that could free up $14bn for investment in education.
“It would be unconscionable to allow resources that are so desperately needed to keep alive the hope that comes with education to be diverted into debt repayments,” said Inger Ashing, CEO of Save the Children.
The agency calls for governments to use their budgets to ensure children have access to distance learning whilst lockdown measures remain; and to support children who have fallen behind.
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 marginalised 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 were already out of school. A Vulnerability Index in the report 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 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 can’t go to school, and I can’t 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 labour 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 organisations, over 500 million children 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 continued:
“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 marginalised children are able to continue learning.
* 275-Strong world leaders’ group warns of tragic ‘COVID generation’ - Millions of children hit as education faces $150 billion of cuts: http://bit.ly/2DWaE9d
Saving Generation COVID, by Abiy Ahmed and Gordon Brown. (Education Cannot Wait)
The oft-repeated idea that COVID-19 is “the great equalizer” is a myth. There is no equality of suffering or equality of sacrifice during a pandemic that is disproportionately hurting the poorest and most vulnerable.
And while the health emergency has disproportionately harmed the elderly poor, the unprecedented education crisis caused by the pandemic is now hurting the poorest children hardest and creating a generation that will lose out on learning. Lockdowns and other social-distancing rules have forced schools all over the world to shut their doors, affecting a peak of nearly 1.6 billion children.
But while wealthier children have had access to alternatives, such as online learning, the poorest do not. The world’s least-advantaged children – for whom education offers the only escape route from poverty – have thus fallen further behind, placing the Sustainable Development Goal 4 (SDG 4) of ensuring inclusive and equitable quality education for all by 2030 even further out of reach.
Even before the pandemic, the world was falling short of this goal. Globally, nearly 260 million children were out of school, and 400 million dropped out after the age of 11. In some regions, such as rural Sub-Saharan Africa, few girls were completing secondary school, not least because of widespread child marriage.
Nearly 50 countries have no laws banning child marriage, and many more fail to enforce their bans. As a result, about 12 million school-age girls are forcibly married off each year.
When schools reopen, there is a good chance that many poor children will never return. Poverty is the biggest reason why children don’t attend school, and the economic repercussions of the COVID-19 crisis will far outlast lockdowns, especially for the poorest people.
The likely result is that more children will be pushed into the ranks of the 152 million school-age children forced to work, as 14 countries still have not ratified the International Labor Organization’s minimum-age convention. And even more girls will be forced into early marriage.
When the West African Ebola epidemic that started in 2014 closed schools in Sierra Leone, the number of 15-19-year-old-girls who were pregnant or already mothers nearly doubled, rising from 30% to 65%. Most of these girls never returned to school.
With the right policies in place, economies will start to recover, jobs will slowly be restored, and social-protection policies will ease the poverty of the unemployed. But there is little protection against the effects of a foregone education, which can last a lifetime.
As it stands, more than half the world’s children – nearly 900 million boys and girls – are unable to read a simple text by age 10. That is 900 million children who do not receive the knowledge and skills needed to improve their economic lot as adults. If we do nothing to help “Generation COVID” make up for lost time, that figure could easily approach one billion or more. When schools in Kashmir closed for 14 weeks in the aftermath of the devastating 2005 earthquake, the most affected children lost the equivalent of 1.5 years of learning.
As the recently published UNESCO Global Education Monitoring Report advises us, children who have fallen behind need the kind of catch-up programs that in Latin America have increased educational attainment by up to 18 months since the 1990s. But the needed support will cost money. Unless we bridge the gap in education funding, SDG4 will remain out of reach.
UNESCO estimates that before the COVID-19 crisis, 50 countries were failing to spend the recommended minimum of 4% of national income, or 15% of the public budget, on education. Inadequate funding from governments and donors has meant that many of the 30 million refugee and forcibly displaced children age out of education without ever setting foot in a classroom, despite the efforts of Education Cannot Wait and other groups.
Now, the pandemic is set to squeeze education budgets even further. As slower or negative growth undermines tax revenues, less money will be available for public services. When allocating limited funds, urgent lifesaving expenditure on health and social safety nets will take precedence, leaving education underfunded.
Likewise, intensifying fiscal pressure in developed countries will result in reductions in international development aid, including for education, which is already losing out to other priorities in the allocation of bilateral and multilateral aid. The World Bank now estimates that, over the next year, overall education spending in low- and middle-income countries could be $100-150 billion lower than previously planned.
This funding crisis will not resolve itself. The quickest way to free up resources for education is through debt relief. The 76 poorest countries must pay $106 billion in debt-service costs over the next two years. Creditors should forgive these payments, with a requirement that the money is reallocated to education, as well as health.
At the same time, multilateral financial institutions and regional development banks must increase their resources. The International Monetary Fund should issue $1.2 trillion in Special Drawing Rights (its global reserve asset), and channel these resources toward the countries that need them most.
The World Bank, for its part, should unlock more support by replenishing the International Development Association (or borrowing on the strength of it) for low-income countries, and by using guarantees and grants from willing aid donors, such as the Netherlands and the United Kingdom, which stand ready to unlock billions in extra finance for education in lower-middle-income countries through the International Finance Facility for Education.
In the next week, both NGOs and all international education organizations will begin “back to school” campaigns. Save Our Future, a new campaign launching in late July, advocates building back better, rather than restoring the pre-pandemic status quo. That means updating classrooms and transforming curricula, implementing effective technologies, and helping teachers offer personalized instruction.
Making schools safer (over 620 million children lack basic sanitation services at their schools, which particularly affects girls) and ensuring school meals (a lifeline for 370 million boys and girls) would also ease the effects of poverty and improve educational outcomes. Save the Children will add to this pressure with its own grassroots campaign focused on debt relief to pay for education.
But investing in schools is only part of the solution. In Sierra Leone, support networks for girls halved the dropout rate during the Ebola crisis. In Latin American, African, and Asian countries, conditional cash transfers have boosted school attendance. The latest Global Education Monitoring Report advocates implementing similar programs today.
Generation COVID has already suffered immensely. It is time for the international community to give children the opportunities they deserve. Even when faced with momentous challenges, we must remain committed to making ours the first generation in history in which every child is in school and learning. Both national governments and the international community must now step up collective efforts to achieve that goal.
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