COVID-19 has closed the world’s schools. The economic and social costs are devastating; as are the potential costs in lost learning.
Developing country governments have mobilized quickly to mitigate the immediate impacts. They have launched and delivered remote learning initiatives on an unprecedented scale, delivering educational content through radio and television networks, training teachers, and providing guidance to parents.
Sustaining learning through the pandemic and – when the time comes – safely re-opening schools has a cost. The Global Partnership for Education has moved quickly to help our partner countries mitigate the immediate impacts of school closures, putting in place a COVID-19 emergency fund.
The demand for support is significant. In just 8 weeks since the fund was announced, GPE has received proposals from close to 50 countries, totaling more than US$500 million, and more are expected in the coming weeks. But this is just the tip of the iceberg.
The real shock is still to come
Just as health experts are worried about second waves of infection, school closures are only the first wave of the education emergency ahead. The economic shockwave triggered by the pandemic is the second.
In optimistic scenarios, where economies recover quickly in 2021, education spending is expected to stagnate in most countries and fall in some. More pessimistic projections forecast that education budgets could shrink by as much as 10% as governments reprioritize funds towards health.
International aid for education, which has only recently come back to pre-2008-2009 financial crisis levels, is also likely to fall – and in any case will not make up the gap.
Household incomes will also decline, as families’ livelihoods are impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and remittances plummet. This will make it difficult for many families to cover education costs, which make up a higher proportion of household budgets in low-income countries than in high-income ones.