The coronavirus pandemic is much more than a health crisis

As a result of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, children and youth all over the world are no longer in classrooms. Home schooling has become the new normal. This is a new situation for everybody everywhere – but in developing countries, COVID-19 poses enormous challenges for children and parents and further exacerbates existing inequalities.

May 26, 2020 by Sabine Terlecki, Global Partnership for Education Secretariat
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3 minutes read
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Empty classroom in Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Due to the coronavirus outbreak schools are currently closed here as in many African countries.
GPE/Guy Nzazi

This post was previously published on ONE Germany website.

Like in my own country, Germany, the education system normally functions quite well. However, like millions of people in Europe and all over the world, I am staying at home with my family. Home schooling is putting my patience (my son's too, no doubt) to the test.

Thus, like countless other parents, we are faced with an improbable and unprecedented balancing act of managing family life, acting as home-school teachers to our children, and keeping up with our everyday jobs. But we manage. On the last day of school, my children were provided all of their necessary books and materials. The teacher consistently transmits a weekly schedule and new learning material to our son and his classmates. In the meantime, we have discovered some good online learning platforms, and talk to educators and other parents in video chat forums. To my children's delight, the educational TV programs have quite a bit to offer.

COVID-19 exacerbates the education crisis in developing countries

However, in many developing countries, the circumstances are completely different. According to UNESCO, the coronavirus crisis is depriving more than 1.5 billion children and youth of their schooling. Approximately 768 million of these students live in developing countries. 63 million teachers are affected by these closures globally.

In many of these lower-income countries, the pandemic is straining education systems even more. There, many children lack textbooks; most families have no computer, let alone internet access; and some parents are illiterate, another barrier when it comes to offering educational support.

Moreover, school lockdowns mean that there is no access to basic social services and no regular meals for millions of children: no classes, no school lunch. The longer schools remain closed, the wider the equity gap grows and the poorest and most marginalized children, especially girls, will be most affected. Girls also face an increased risk of sexual violence and early marriage. During the Ebola crisis in Sierra Leone, school closures led to a sharp increase in teenage pregnancies. In the case of boys, not going to school increases the risk of recruitment by armed groups. From the 63 million teachers currently affected by these closures worldwide, many will not be able to return to school once they re-open as they will have accepted other jobs to make a living wage.

Thus, in developing countries the coronavirus pandemic will not only wreak havoc on the health of many citizens, but it will also have a devastating effect on the education of an entire generation - and thus further affect social and economic development.

In order to counter these consequences of the pandemic, the Global Partnership for Education (GPE), for which I work, cooperates closely with its 67 partner countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Last month, GPE provided US$ 250 million in emergency assistance in order to ensure that children can continue to learn during the pandemic. These funds are being used to produce educational programming on radio and television, provide textbooks and other relevant materials for the poorest families, create public-awareness campaigns and train teachers in conducting distance learning. Thus far, GPE has received expressions of interest from developing countries totaling nearly US$ 600 million.

During the Ebola crisis in 2014-2016 Sierra Leone has set up an educational radio program to ensure children have access to education even while the schools are closed.
During the Ebola crisis in 2014-2016 Sierra Leone has set up an educational radio program to ensure children have access to education even while the schools are closed.
PME/Ludovica Pellicioli

Sierra Leone draws on experience gained during the Ebola crisis

Countries are managing the crisis based on their own circumstances and deciding what specific measures to take to ensure that education continues. A terrific example involves Sierra Leone's experience with school lockdowns during the 2014-2016 Ebola epidemic. At that time, with financial support from GPE, the Government brought together the country's best teachers to develop an educational radio program targeted at millions of students. In fact, the program even reached many children who, until then, had little access to education at all. With COVID-19 providing similar challenges, Sierra Leone is not only reviving the program but making sure it reaches even more children.

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It poses a huge problem to which I don't know the solution. Our NPO https://impophomo.org.za has focussed mainly on food aid during the pandemic here in South Africa. We have mentorship programmes aimed at high-school students and we support early education in disadvantaged communities. At the moment, however, these are on hold. We are glad to have supported educators with vital food supplies over this time, but the effects of the lapse in schooling will likely be felt for years to come. The education department is scrambling to try to safely complete a full school year. Thank you for your good work into a this important sector in developing nations.

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