Thursday, October 28

Class Canceled: How Covid School Closures Blocked Routes Out of Poverty | Education

IIn the coffee communities of the Peruvian Amazon, the classroom is a route out of poverty. Gabriela was studying civil engineering in a city an hour and a half from her home when the Covid-19 pandemic struck.

The 18-year-old, who is one of thousands of young people followed since 2002 as part of the Young Lives Project Led by the University of Oxford, it has been forced to postpone its education, in a country where 16% of 19-year-olds have dropped out of education due to the crisis.

It is not only in Peru, one of the success stories of the last two decades in reducing poverty and improving living standards, where this is a problem. Gabriela is one of the millions of young people around the world who are going through similar experiences due to Covid-19.

The Malala Fund, which advocates for girls’ education, estimates, using models from the 2014 Ebola crisis in West Africa, that 20 million more girls could be out of school after the coronavirus pandemic.

A study of students that the Young Lives project has been following in Ethiopia, India, Peru and Vietnam, Posted in January, paints a devastating picture of the economic and social impact of Covid-19 on the lives of young people.

A 14-year-old student in Santa Ana, Junín, Peru
14-year-old student in Santa Ana, Junín, Peru. The country has been successful in improving the standard of living for the past two decades. Photograph: Sebastian Castañeda / Courtesy of Young Lives

Their experiences raise fears that blockades and restrictions not only threaten to halt the progress made in the past two generations, but could also reverse life opportunities and entrench inequalities for many young people, hitting those who live hardest. in poor communities.

Gabriela’s story is typical of many who have been forced, in all ages, to stop their education due to the crisis. As a child, she helped around the house, carrying water and firewood with her mother and taking care of her younger brothers and sisters.

When she was nine years old, her mother died, leaving her and her siblings in the care of her father and older sister. More adversity struck in 2014, when the coffee harvest failed and his father went into debt.

She worked her entire time at the school, supported by her older sister after her father’s death two years ago, and also worked on the farm during their vacations.

“My sister, with what was left [from the harvest profit] supported me with my studies. My father had his garden and his cattle. Selling [farm products] my sister supported me. “

“My father’s death was not a setback for me. As the saying goes: you have to finish what they start. “

The real setback turned out to be a global pandemic. “No one thought that this pandemic would be a long-term problem. I wanted to do an internship in the morning and study at night. I thought this could be done, but with this pandemic I couldn’t. “

While Gabriela attempted to continue her studies remotely as one of five in her class of 20 who enrolled in April, like many, she faced severe challenges due to unreliable internet connections and having to share a computer with her students. brothers: a digital divide that has been acutely experienced around the world.

“My brother and I had the lessons scheduled at the same time. The first to enter rationed their time to give it to the next. Sometimes he started and I lost my lesson and sometimes the other way around. “

In the end, economic reality intruded. “In my village the harvest has finished. Being there without work, without income, you cannot waste time. The need is great, I had to look for money. As a big girl, I also have to support my younger siblings who are still there. ”

With an uncertain financial future, you may have to continue working to support your family and may not be able to finish your professional degree if face-to-face lessons are not resumed.

“It would make me feel bad, because it would change my plans once again.”

A group of girls in Dakar, Senegal, last month.
A group of girls in the Yoff neighborhood of Dakar, Senegal, last month. The Malala Fund estimates that 20 million more girls could drop out of education due to Covid. Photograph: Zohra Bensemra / Reuters

“Education plays an important role in helping people get out of poverty. And that has been greatly affected by the pandemic, ”says Marta Favara, economist and principal investigator at Young Lives.

“In the two cohorts that we have been following, we saw people beginning to make the transition to higher education. Now we see them abandoning education as households face the economic crisis caused by the pandemic.

“That includes rising food prices and healthcare costs and falling income, as many people have lost their jobs. Instead, we are seeing young people being forced to go back to farming. “

For girls, Favara says, the economic risks of dropping out of education are greater, as they also often face pressure to start a family. Research suggests that leaving school earlier will mean they will have less education and fewer opportunities.

All of which has reversed the progress the project had been following in nutrition, education, and sanitation for the past two decades.

Of particular concern is the impact of the digital divide in many of the countries covered by the project. This has amplified the problems in education seen around the world during the coronavirus crisis.

“The problem of the digital divide is enormous. In some places, only 5% have access to the Internet. Then there is the question of what is happening to the mental health of these young people, ”says Favara.

For Gabriela, like so many others, now it’s just a matter of waiting.

“We have to wait until it’s back to normal,” he says. “Old fashioned. We will have to start from scratch. Because sometimes you make plans, but God has others ”.

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