COVID-19 has disrupted education for 1.2 billion students - and Malala Fund research shows that up to 10 million secondary-school aged girls may never return to the classroom.
In some countries, the poorest girls could lose half their total years of education. Out of school, girls are vulnerable to child marriage, early pregnancy and pressure to take on more unpaid and paid work. When schools eventually re-open, millions of girls may not reenroll due to harmful gender norms and strains on household and government spending.
Helping education systems recover
We need action now to respond to and recover from a looming education crisis. While girls are at home, we must provide them with low-tech, universally accessible distance learning and protect them from harm. We must plan for a quick, comprehensive return to school by setting up systems to monitor reenrollment, gather gender-disaggregated data and incentivize at-risk girls to go back to the classroom.
Second, we have to do more to help education systems recover. In the face of a financial crisis, national governments should not divert funding, continuing to aim to spend 20% of domestic budgets or 6% of gross national income on education. The international community can help relieve pressure on budgets, through coordinated actions like debt relief and special drawing rights.
Recovery requires more funding
To meet unprecedented new demand for emergency support, donors should give to funds like the Global Partnership for Education. Canada is supporting UNICEF to distribute emergency education kits and the U.K. has made an early contribution to Education Cannot Wait’s COVID-19 appeal - but these are only first steps and donors must do much more.
Local activists - first responders in the education crisis - are already working to keep girls learning. Malala Fund stepped up its support for our Education Champions, leaders in 8 countries who are at the heart of our work around the world.
Haroon Yasin has translated Pakistan’s curriculum into a cartoon series, with a goal to reach one million children through a mobile app. In Nigeria, Kiki James is working with teachers to broadcast distance learning radio programs in 12 states.
For governments, recessions are daunting, and cuts to social spending may seem the only solution to dealing with falling revenues. This is short-sighted and bad business.