We have to prepare for the reopening of schools in developing countries

The longer children and youth are out of school in developing countries, the more likely it is that they never return.

June 03, 2020 by Jouni Hemberg, Finn Church Aid, and Minna Peltola, Finn Church Aid
3 minutes read
Students from the Nyeri Primary School in Kenya on their way to school. April 2017
GPE/Kelley Lynch

This blog was originally published in the Helsingin Sanomat in Finnish on May 2, 2020.

The coronavirus has created an unprecedented situation by forcing most of the world's children and youth to stay out of school. School closures have, according to UNESCO, affected more than 90% of the world's learners.

What makes the situation more complicated is that nine out of ten of the world's 1.8 billion youth live in developing countries. Their opportunities for distance learning are limited due to poor or non-existent internet connections.

Education means a lot more for children and youth than just attending lessons.

Schools provide safety and they protect learners from abuse and violence outside of school.

When schools are closed, children and youth no longer spend their days with others of their age, nor with teachers that look after them. Learners also miss out on school lunches and healthcare.

Learning the lessons of the Ebola crisis

The Ebola epidemic of 2014 has been described as the most devastating of our time. Its consequences give an impression of what might follow from the coronavirus pandemic. During Ebola, schools in West Africa were closed for 6 to 8 months.

Teenage pregnancies increased in the entire region – for instance, by a staggering 65% in parts of Sierra Leone, according to a UNDP study.

Numerous international studies researched the experiences of children and youth during the Ebola epidemic. Results show a direct connection between school closures and an increase in child labor. Many children told that they had to shoulder a greater responsibility for their family's income due to the epidemic's devastating consequences on people's livelihoods.

This is why we already have to prepare for the children's return to school. It should not be delayed any more than necessary for curbing the spread of the virus. Part of the preparation is to maintain the schools' connection to both learners and teachers during the time schools are closed.

In accordance with response plans and recommendations of governments, Finn Church Aid (FCA) supports children, youth and their families in Uganda, Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan, Cambodia, Nepal and Myanmar in coping with school closures and a loss of livelihoods.

This includes distribution of soap, radios, home learning packages, food items and other necessities. Children continue learning with for instance radio lectures. It is more important than ever to increase funding for education to ensure that children do not drop out.

When lectures can resume, low-income countries need additional support from donors and other education sector actors to bring children and youth back to school. Schools need to accelerate curriculums and arrange remedial classes to get learners on track. Teachers must be prepared to give psychosocial support to their learners.

Schools and educators are also essential in conveying critical life-saving messages.

Awareness-raising on proper hygiene has to continue and measures must be implemented at school in order to prevent the virus from spreading again.

Supporting children's return to school is not a moral choice – it serves everyone's interest. Looking the other way will lead to unforeseen social and economic consequences.

Finn Church Aid (FCA) is Finland's largest international aid organization with operations in 13 countries and more than 70 years of experience. FCA specializes in quality education, sustainable livelihoods and peace, and works with the most vulnerable people, regardless of their religious beliefs, ethnic background or political convictions. Tweets on @FCA_global.

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Does anyone ever feel like the developing countries are not as prepared for crisis situations? Even with our ability to have remote learning, I sometimes feel like we are lagging behind, maybe stuck in denial or shock, or something, and we are not prepared for such a crisis on a global scale. Learning from other countries that have been through Ebola and similar crises that have stopped education is important, and I just don't get the impression that the United States is taking the opportunity to learn from others. Thank you to everyone who has taken the steps to reopen their schools and teach their future.

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