COVID-19: education risks becoming the “greatest divider”

Now entering its third year, the COVID-19 pandemic has continued to prevent some 405 million school children worldwide from a full return to class, according to a new report released on Wednesday by the United Nations Development Fund. childhood (UNICEF).

And with 23 countries yet to fully reopen schools, many children are at risk of simply dropping out.

“When children aren’t able to interact directly with their teachers and peers, their learning suffers,” said UNICEF Executive Director Catherine Russel. “When they are not able to interact with their teachers and peers at all, their learning loss can become permanent.

“This growing inequality in access to learning means education risks becoming the biggest divider, not the biggest equalizer. When the world fails to educate its children, we all suffer.

2 trillion hours, gone

The report titled, Do children really learn?presents country-level education data on the impact COVID-19[female[feminine school closures have on children as well as an updated analysis of the state of learning before the pandemic.

The study highlights that 147 million children have missed more than half of their classroom instruction in the past two years, representing two trillion hours of in-person instruction lost worldwide.

Africa case study

In addition to data on learning loss, the report highlights new evidence that many children did not return to school when their classrooms reopened, including in Liberia, West Africa , where 43% of public school students stayed out of the classroom after schools reopened. in December 2020.

And between March 2020 and July 2021, the number of out-of-school children in South Africa tripled, from 250,000 to 750,000. About one in 10 Ugandan pupils did not return to school in January 2022 after two years of school closures.

Meanwhile, in Malawi, the dropout rate for girls in secondary education increased by 48% between 2020 and 2021, and in Kenya, a survey of 4,000 adolescents aged 10-19 found that 16% of girls and 8% of boys did not return when schools reopened.

When the world fails to educate its children, we all suffer“said the senior UN official.

Vulnerable and marginalized

Out-of-school children are among the most vulnerable and marginalized young people in society – the least likely to read, write or do basic math.

Additionally, they are cut off from school safety nets, putting them at even greater risk of exploitation and a life of poverty and deprivation.

“Even before the pandemic, the most marginalized children were being left behind,” Ms Russell recalled.

“As the pandemic enters its third year, we cannot afford to return to ‘normal’. We need a new normal,” explained the UNICEF chief, “bringing children into classrooms, assessing where they are in their learning, providing them with the intensive support they need to recover that missed and ensure teachers have the training and learning resources they need.

“The stakes are too high to do less.”

Learning slowdown

Although out-of-school children suffer the greatest loss, pre-pandemic data from 32 countries and territories has highlighted an already desperately low level of learning that has only been exacerbated by the unleashed education crisis. by COVID.

In the countries analysed, the current pace of learning is so slow that it would take most schoolchildren seven years to acquire the basic reading skills that should have been acquired in two years, and 11 years to acquire the skills of basis in calculation.

Moreover, in many cases, there is no guarantee that school children have learned the basics.

According to the data, a quarter of eighth-graders, aged around 14, lacked basic reading skills and more than half lacked the numeracy skills expected of a seven-year-old. in second year.