Shattered dreams: Reeling from the impact of COVID-19 on girls’ education

The “new normal” brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic has suddenly and abruptly redefined the future of education for millions of girls in Africa. In order to understand the impact of COVID-19 on girls from their own experiences, Plan International and the African Child Policy Forum (ACPF) undertook a continental study and published a report. Here are the key takeaways.

October 28, 2020 by Sam Norgah, Plan International African Union Liaison Office
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4 minutes read
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A girl reads in a primary school in Madagascar. Credit: UNICEF Madagascar/2014/Ramasomanana
A girl reads in a primary school in Madagascar.
Credit: UNICEF Madagascar/2014/Ramasomanana

We all have aspirations; we all have dreams about the future. A future for ourselves, our children, our communities, a future that holds the promise of improved quality of life. Dreams and aspirations are the bedrock of every human endeavor and are anchored in our beliefs, traditions, policies and legislations. However, the “new normal” brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic has suddenly and abruptly redefined the future of education for millions of girls in Africa.

In order to understand the impact of COVID-19 on girls from their own experiences, Plan International and the African Child Policy Forum (ACPF) undertook a continental study and published a report titled: Under Siege: the impact of COVID-19 on girls in Africa.

The report helps us understand how COVID-19 impacts girls. The girls we spoke with told us how COVID-19 has shattered their dreams and curbed their aspirations.

The report presents a stark reality: The future of millions of girls will never be the same because of the disruption to education systems caused by COVID-19. The lived realities of girls in the face of COVID-19 and its impact on education are aptly captured by some of the girls. COVID-19 has shrunk the space for education.

I am really missing classes. Sometimes I try to study at home but the house chores are so much that I can’t revise my notes. I take care of my siblings as well as the house and the farm. I start working very early and go to bed very late.”

Halima, 16, from Niger

What does education hold for girls in the face of COVID-19?

Measures put in place by governments to contain the spread of COVID-19 have resulted in school closures (among other restrictions) in over 70% of countries in Africa. Putting this into perspective, more than 120 million girls are currently at home because of school closures across Africa.

Think about this for a moment. Assuming 10% of girls are unable to go back to school when schools resume, a staggering 12 million girls will drop out of school in Africa. This is about the combined populations of The Gambia, Botswana, Gabon, Lesotho and Mauritius – a distressing thought. This is heartbreaking.

Schools not only provide education for learners but in most countries, they also offer nutritious meals through school feeding programs, shield millions of girls from being married off as children, provide age-appropriate health information for girls and protect them from gender-based violence.

The school environment also provides space for socialization and networking among girls. Some girls expressed fears about the increasing rates of child marriage, female genital mutilation, physical and sexual violence among others.

Things have become very uncomfortable for me since the state of emergency began. Being at home all day with my family is dreadful, because they are rushing me to get married.”

Angelina, 17, from Mozambique

Many countries have introduced online learning to mitigate the impact of school closures on learners. This initiative is very relevant, and governments need to be commended. In spite of the benefits of virtual learning, the girls raised other challenges.

Among them are:

  • the cost of internet data and limited access in deprived communities
  • virtual platforms that are not disability friendly
  • some caregivers are unable to support their children during the online sessions
  • online/digital learning is a new phenomenon for both teachers and learners.

Personal reflection

Various normative and legislative frameworks such as the Sustainable Development Goals, the African Union’s Agenda 2063, and the Continental Education Strategy for Africa underscore the importance of education.

The impact of COVID-19 on education could erase decades of effort and resources put in place to ensure gender equality in education especially at the basic level.

Unless we act decisively and increase investment in critical areas within the education sector, the continent will wake up to realize the shocking reality of widening gender disparities in education. Below are the questions I want to ask:

  • Are governments, donors, development partners, civil society organizations doing enough to guarantee girls’ access to education in the face of COVID-19?
  • Are investments being channeled in the right programs, platforms and initiatives to ensure optimal education outcomes for girls?
  • Do we have effective accountability mechanisms in place to track education outcomes, funding and other resources for girls’ education?
  • Are alternative learning platforms able to deliver effective learning? Are improvement measures in place? Are they gender sensitive?
  • Do lockdown and restrictive measures take into account the lived realities of girls and other vulnerable groups and how they are differently impacted?

Can we afford to sit idle while the dreams of millions of girls shatter and their aspirations fade? This is where organizations that support girls’ education like GPE and Plan International can and should make strategic education investments to overturn shattered dreams and restore the aspirations of millions of African girls.

So, I and my colleagues at Plan International African Union Liaison Office raise our hands to support investing in education for all children, especially girls, and you should too.

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