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COVID – Poorest countries’ children have lost nearly four months of schooling

Schoolchildren in low-and lower-middle-income countries have already lost nearly four months of education since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, compared to six weeks of loss in high-income countries, according to a new report.  

UNICEF, UNESCO – the United Nations’ children and cultural agencies respectively – and the World Bank jointly produced the report, based on survey findings on national education responses to COVID carried out in around 150 countries between June and October.

Robert Jenkins, chief of education for UNICEF, said: “We don’t need to look far to see the devastation the pandemic has caused to children’s learning across the world. In low- and lower-middle income countries, this devastation is magnified as limited access to remote learning, increased risks of budget cuts and delayed plans in reopening have thwarted any chance of normalcy for schoolchildren.”

‘Inadequate resources to ensure safe operations’

Schoolchildren in low-and lower-middle income countries were the least likely to access remote learning, the least likely to be monitored on their learning loss, the most likely to have delays to their schools reopening and the most likely to attend schools with inadequate resources to ensure safe operations.

While more than two-thirds of countries have fully or partially reopened their schools, one in four in have missed their planned reopening date or not yet set a date for reopening, most of which are low- and lower-middle-income countries.

Only one in five low-income countries reported that remote learnings days count as official school days, recognising the low-impact of remote learning measures, compared to three-quarters of countries globally.

And while most countries reported that student learning is being monitored by teachers, a quarter of low- and lower-middle-income countries are not tracking children’s learning. In addition, half of respondents in low-income countries reported not having adequate funds for safety measures such as hand-washing facilities, social distancing measures and protective equipment for students and teachers, compared to five per cent of high-income countries.

‘Narrowing the digital divide’

Stefania Giannini, assistant director-general for education at UNESCO, “The pandemic will notch up the funding gap for education in low and middle-income countries. By making the right investment choices now, rather than waiting, this gap could be significantly reduced.“

It follows an education meeting last month convened by UNESCO involving Ghana, Norway and the UK, along with some 15 heads of state and government, education ministers and development partners committed to protect education funding and act to safely reopen schools, support all teachers as frontline workers and narrow the digital divide.

Other findings include:

  • Almost all countries included remote learning in their education response, in the form of online platforms, TV and radio programmes and take-home packages.
  • nine in 10 countries facilitated access to online learning, most frequently through mobile phones or offering internet access at subsidized or no cost, but the coverage of this access was extremely varied.
  • six in 10 countries provided materials to help guide parents in home-based learning, while four in 10 countries provided psychosocial counselling to children and caregivers during school closures.  These efforts were more common among high-income countries and in environments where resources were already available.

‘Large differences in countries’ capacity’

Jaime Saavedra, global director for education for the World Bank, said: “Despite widespread efforts, there are large differences in countries’ capacity to provide children and youth with effective learning. And there are probably even wider differences within countries in the educational stimulation children and youth have experienced.

“We were worried about learning poverty before the pandemic and also about the inequality in learning opportunities. Now the learning baseline is lower, but the increase in inequality of opportunities could be catastrophic. The task of reigniting the learning process is extremely urgent.”

Author: Simon Weedy

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