The health crisis around the world is having a serious impact on billions of people in many different ways.
Children are a particularly vulnerable part of the population, and they’re also enduring some truly heavy burdens right now. Global nonprofit Save the Children has issued a dire forecast: The organization believes that the massive upheaval could result in at least 9.7 million children leaving school forever.
The troubling warning comes as countries around the world continue to contend with the virus. Save the Children believes that both deep cuts to education and rising poverty around the world will be the two biggest reasons why many children may never return to school.
Inger Ashing, the organization’s CEO, believes that allowing countries to suspend their debt-repayment agreements could help: “It would be unconscionable to allow resources that are so desperately needed to keep alive the hope that comes with education to be diverted into debt repayments.”
Allowing countries to suspend their debt-repayment programs could free up to $14 billion that could then be used to help keep children in schools. The organization is also calling on countries to ensure that they are using their budgets to help children gain and maintain access to distance learning options throughout the crisis.
The impact of the virus on education is only just starting to be understood. Save the Children’s report states, “In a mid-range budget scenario, the agency estimates that the recession will leave a shortfall of $77 billion in education spending in some of the poorest countries in the world over the next 18 months. In a worst-case scenario, under which governments shift resources from education to other [virus] response areas, that figure could climb to an astonishing $192 billion by the end of 2021.”
Inger Ashing also noted, “Around 10 million children may never return to school — this is an unprecedented education emergency and governments must urgently invest in learning. Instead, we are at risk of unparalleled budget cuts which will see existing inequality explode between the rich and the poor, and between boys and girls.”
“We know the poorest, most marginalised children who were already the furthest behind have suffered the greatest loss, with no access to distance learning — or any kind of education — for half an academic year.”
Prior to the outbreak of the virus, at least 258 million children already struggled to gain access to education.
One of the children, a 15-year-old girl from Ethiopia, shared her worries about not being able to return to the school she loves:
“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 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.”
Boys and girls have been negatively impacted by the virus, and many girls are especially at risk for not returning to school. The longer children are at home, the more likely teenage girls will become the victims of gender-based violence or be coerced into child marriage and/or teenage pregnancy. These factors make it exponentially harder, if not impossible, for young girls to return to school even if their governments are supporting the education system.
Save the Children and other organizations are providing materials that children need to be successful at distance learning, but they estimate that there are still 500 million children who have absolutely no access to distance learning at all. Additionally, many children who are living in impoverished homes may have parents who struggle with literacy and who are unable to help them with their schoolwork.
Inger added, “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 quality education by 2030, will be set back by years.”
“Governments should be putting the interests of children before the claims of creditors. Whether they live in a refugee camp in Syria, a conflict zone in Yemen, a crammed urban area, or remote rural village: all children have a right to learn, to develop, to build a better future than their parents might have had. Education is the basis for that, and we can’t afford to let [the virus] get in the way.”
While families around the world are trying to come up with the best solutions for their own children — is school safe or not? — and teachers are struggling with balancing their fears for themselves and their students, it’s also worth remembering that these struggles are definitely global and that they manifest in numerous ways.