TOWorldwide, 800 million children have yet to fully return to school, UNICEF warns, and many are at risk of never returning to the classroom as closures lengthen. There are at least 90 countries where schools are closed or offer a combination of distance and in-person learning.
The UN agency’s head of education, Robert Jenkins, told The Guardian that the closures are part of an “unimaginable” disruption in children’s education.
“I didn’t imagine the scale of the closures when schools closed last year, and I didn’t imagine it would continue for that long. In all of our scenario planning for outage, this possibility was never raised, ”he says.
“At the peak of the pandemic, 1.6 billion children did not go to school and here we are, a year later, and 800 million continue to suffer a total or partial interruption of education.
“There are many lessons to be learned, and one is the impact prolonged school closings have on children.”
A new Covid-19 Global Education Recovery Tracker from UNICEF, the World Bank and Johns Hopkins University is monitoring closures around the world, looking at where children are learning at home or at school.
Humanitarian organizations say the closures have contributed to a number of growing abuses and degradation of children’s rights around the world, from the increased use of child labor to an increase in child marriages, often in communities where children children already had difficulties accessing education.
While it is too early for large-scale evidence to emerge, around the world, human rights groups are seeing children taking on more and more work as school closures take their toll.
A Save the Children report this week it warns that in Lebanon children are being put to work by parents desperate for money. The charity fears that many of the children will never return to school. Jennifer Moorehead, director of the charity in Lebanon, said: “We are already witnessing the tragic impact of this situation, with boys working in supermarkets or on farms, and girls being forced to marry.”
In Uganda, schools have been closed since March 2020, putting 15 million pupils out of education. Only allowed to return to certain classes with upcoming exams. The rest will return in a phased manner in the coming months, although thousands of girls will not. having become pregnant or married in the intervening period.
In the Gulu district in the north of the country, Ambrose is making bricks in the hot sun for pennies, instead of attending classes. Their plight is part of a broader increase in working children in the region. “Making bricks is very difficult,” says the 11-year-old, who suffers from back pain and rashes all over his body.
The kids here still have fun, sometimes finding time to play hide and seek or perform jump rope tricks, but Ambrose doesn’t know if he’ll ever go back to school. Her mother is concerned about the physical impact this is having on her children.
“The bricks bring problems. Physically, you feel pain in your arms, ”he says. But he sees no other way for them to survive.
Girls have been particularly hard hit by school closings around the world. In countries like Afghanistan, adolescent girls already had a high dropout rate with about 2.2 million girls were out of school before the pandemic. Now, the groups that support them fear that an increase in early marriage will leave even those who want to continue your education unable to do so.
In Kabul, 15-year-old Khatema is recovering from the death of her baby after a brutal and harmful delivery. Doctors believe it was related to his young age.
“She is still in shock,” says her mother, Marzia, 40. “She thinks the baby is being kept alive in a machine somewhere, so we are not forcing her [to accept the truth]. We’ll tell her when we take her home. “
His father decided he had to get married when they closed the school in March last year due to the pandemic.
Khatema’s family felt immediately pressured to find her a husband. Her father was concerned that she would embarrass the family for being home without proper supervision. He decided to marry her off to a farmer much older than her, and they rushed the ceremonies to ensure that Khatema was moved to her husband’s home before the closings began.
“I wanted her to finish her education, but no one listens to me,” says her mother, Marzia.
“I loved going to school,” says Khatema. “I only had one more year left, so I felt really bad when they asked me to leave. I was good at it too. He even wanted to go to college one day. Nobody asked me if I wanted to get married. “
Schools in Kabul finally began to open last week and Khatema hopes he can return and avoid becoming one of the millions of students whose education ends permanently during the pandemic.
While remote learning has become a familiar concept during the pandemic, it is not a panacea, particularly in areas with poor connectivity or where parents cannot pay for Internet access. For children with disabilities, distance learning can exacerbate these difficulties.
In Colombia, Andrés, 12, attends classes on his parents’ mobile phone from his village near the Venezuelan border on the Catatumbo River. Frequent thunderstorms in the area often take the Internet out of service.
“It is not the same to see your teacher on a screen,” he says. “The connection is always breaking.”
Andrés has spastic paraplegia, which affects his speech and makes it especially difficult for him to participate, even when the screen does not freeze.
In Latin America and the Caribbean, 114 million children still do not attend school, more than anywhere else in the world. Some public schools in the capital of Colombia, Bogotá, resumed Face-to-face teaching. However, in rural regions like Catatumbo, where Andrés lives, and where it is most needed, most remain closed.
Cities like yours are critical points for the production of coca, the base ingredient of cocaine, and the conflict between armed groups competing for control of it.
The number of children who have disappeared in the past year has increased as families have been pushed into poverty and lost the teachers who cared for them, says Save the Children Colombia. Local groups are concerned that they have been recruited by armed groups or are working on coca plantations.
“Many children have dropped out of school due to financial problems,” says María, Andrés’ mother. “Of his 40 classmates, about 25 still attend.”
Andrés hopes that one day he will be able to use complex mechanisms and software to develop robotic limbs to help other people with physical disabilities similar to his own. “I really like technology,” he says.
“We always tell him that he may not be able to walk, but that he can do incredible things with his brain,” says Maria. “And I say: ‘I may not be able to give you these things, but if you study, one day you will be able to give what we cannot give to your children.’
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism