Education is a Casualty of the Coronavirus
The impact of the coronavirus on children’s education may turn out to be one of the most disruptive, long-term consequences of this pandemic. UNESCO estimates that, globally, 91% of learners who were enrolled in primary school through university are now out of school.
Source: UNESCO, April 6, 2020. Please click for an interactive version.
For some children and young people, this pandemic will mean weeks, or perhaps months, of remote learning followed by some adjustments heading into the new school year.
For others, however, remote learning will be very difficult to achieve. Children whose parents are uneducated themselves, or even illiterate, will be at a distinct disadvantage. And, not all families have access to the computers, tablets, Internet connections and Google Classroom software that make remote learning possible. In other words, the haves will continue to learn and the have-nots will fall further behind. This applies to both communities in wealthy countries and in low-income countries where learning was already lagging.
In addition, there were already 258 million children and adolescents out of school (they are not included in the 1.6 billion out of school as a result of COVID-19) before this crisis even began. Efforts to see all children in school by 2030 already faced funding shortfalls, while dismantling high barriers to education for some vulnerable groups like disabled children, refugees, children in rural areas and girls, already proved difficult to manage. Now, ensuring a quality education for all children and youth takes on even more challenges.
Coronavirus a threat to girls’ safety and education
In low-income countries, there is a real fear that many will not return to the classroom at all once the crisis is over. For girls, this reality is even more acute. We just need to look at the Ebola crisis in 2014-16 to know that when girls are out of school, they lose the protection and safety of that environment.
A Plan International report notes that, following the Ebola crisis, many girls did not return to school due to pregnancy – often as the result of rape. In some parts of Sierra Leone, teenage pregnancy rose by 65%. In other cases, parents, or relatives of orphaned children, could no longer afford to send the children to school, and married the girls off.
UNESCO has proposed six actions to help children through this pandemic. You can read about them here.
Deploying the Mobile Learning Lab for remote learning
On our end, 60 million girls is working with some of our past and current partners to adapt projects to this new reality. We are looking at ways to support at-risk girls to ensure that they are able to return to school once this pandemic eases. We are also examining how our Mobile Learning Lab (MLL) can bridge the education gap between stay-at-home orders and a time when all children can go back to school.
The MLL has some clear advantages. It does not require the Internet to access a large range of fun and interactive learning materials. Solar panels ensure that even villages without regular electricity can charge the tablets and the RACHEL – the basis of this offline learning system.
Photo credit: Josiane Farand
The MLL also works really well for self-directed learning. In fact, that is how we first deployed it. The MLL enables children to find information on their own and to research ideas and learn about concepts that interest them. In areas where teachers are untrained, our pilot project in Sierra Leone showed the positive affect it can have on learning and children’s self-confidence. The MLL could work during this crisis as well.
However, it is obviously critical to first ensure the safety of the children, their families and the MLL coordinators through social or physical distancing.
As we all adjust to this strange new reality while sheltering in place, please know that we are continuing to look for the best way to meet the needs of some of the world’s most vulnerable children to ensure that they stay in school and fulfill their right to a quality education.