Monday 20 July 2020

·         World is facing a hidden education emergency 

·         Children in nine countries in Africa are at extremely high risk of dropping out of school forever

·         Girls are at increased exposure to gender-based violence and risk of child marriage and teen pregnancy during school closures

·         Save the Children calls for increased funding of education, including conversion of debt liabilities into investment in children

 July 13th - As countries are expected to shift funds in the fight against the COVID-19 outbreak, the global pandemic threatens to cause an additional gap of at least 6.2 billion dollars in investments in education in Sub-Saharan region over the next 18 months, Save the Children warned in a new report launched today.

Globally, the gab in education spending could be as high as $77 billion. Deep budget cuts to education combined with rising poverty caused by the COVID-19 pandemic could force millions of children out of school forever, with millions more falling behind in learning. Girls are likely to be much worse affected than boys, with many forced into child marriage. As the impacts of the recession triggered by COVID-19 hits families, many children may be forced out of school and into labour markets. In its report, Save the Children is calling for governments and donors to respond to this global education emergency by urgently investing in education as schools begin to reopen after months of lockdown. The agency is also urging commercial creditors to suspend debt repayments by low-income countries globally - a move that could free up $14bn for investment in education. Before the outbreak, 258 million children and adolescents[1] were already out of school. A Vulnerability Index in the report[2] shows that in 12 countries, nine of which are in Africa, children are at extremely high risk of not returning to school after the lockdowns lift.

Many of the countries mentioned face internal conflict, and all countries face already high out of school rates and a sharp divide in school attendance along wealth and gender lines, factors that are likely to be exacerbated by the measures such as school closures - meaning girls and children from poverty stricken families will be hardest hit. In addition, many of the poorest children in low-income and conflict-affected countries may not have literate parents, and do not have access to internet or devices needed to access distance learning, limiting the support available to them. In Sub-Saharan Africa, 89% of the pupils do not have access to household computers, 82% lack internet access and around 28 million students live in locations without mobile network coverage. Losing out on months of learning means many children will struggle to catch up, increasing the likelihood of them dropping out of school.

The shortfall in investment in education could set back or even bring an end to the education of millions of children in low- and middle-income countries – with the COVID-19 outbreak putting millions of children at risk of not returning to school at all in Africa due to the income shock of the pandemic alone.

One of them is the 15-year-old girl Zahra* from Ethiopia – she and many other children in her village can no longer go to school, as it was closed due to the virus.“Three months ago, things were very good for me. I was enjoying school in grade six. When we were in school, we used to play with our friends and learn. The school also used to provide us with a school meal every day. Now after this virus, I can’t go to school, and I can’t see my friends. I miss my school and my friends so much.”

“It has been nearly three months since schools were closed and like many of the children here, I spend most of my time looking after the livestock and I sometimes help my mother with household chores like cleaning and cooking.” Eric Hazard, Save the Children’s Pan African Advocacy and Campaign Director Said:

Save the Children commends all the work governments have done so far to ensure children can continue their education in these uncertain times. Many African countries have come up with innovative ways to continue children’s education including interactive radios, TV and distance learning programmes, but more than half of these activities were solely online.”

“If we allow this education crisis to unfold, the impact on children’s futures will be long lasting. The promise the world has made to ensure all children have access to a quality education by 2030, will be set back by years. Governments need to help schools who are preparing to re-open, to ensure that children can return safely and make up for lost learning time. We have to protect a whole generation from losing out on their education. We must take action now.”

 Save the Children warns that schools not only provide children with a space to learn – for many, they are also a safe place where children can play with friends, get meals and access to health services, including mental health services. Teachers can be front-line responders and protectors for children who might suffer from abuse at home. With school closures, these safeguards fall away. 

Save the Children is calling for an increased funding of education, with $35 billion to be made available by the World Bank. National governments must make education a priority by producing and implementing COVID-19 education responses and recovery plans to ensure the most marginalized children are able to continue learning. 

*Names changed for privacy reasons


To support Save the Children’s global COVID-19 emergency appeal, click here.

[2] We know that COVID-19 is likely to lead to an increase in the number of out-of-school children, either because children do not return to school when schools reopen, or they drop out because of the lost learning they have experienced whilst schools have been closed. We have calculated an index incorporating three critical vulnerabilities, which we believe are likely impact the likelihood of children dropping out of school: 1) Rate of children currently out of school (before COVID-19), 2) Equity gaps in out-of-school rates (wealth and gender), and 3) Learning outcomes.