By Tobias Lengnan Dapam
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 on Monday.
Globally, the report said the gap in education spending could be as high as $77 billion.
A statement issued yesterday by Mercy Gichuhi, Country Director, Save the Children International Nigeria, said 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.
The report said 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 labor markets.”
In its report, Save the Children is called 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[i] were already out of school. A Vulnerability Index in the report[ii] shows that in 12 countries, nine of which are in Africa[iii], children are at extremely high risk of not returning to school after the lockdowns lift.
Mercy Gichuhi, Country Director, Save the Children International Nigeria, said, “Even before the COVID-19 crisis, Nigeria is estimated to have over 10 million out of school children, one of the highest rates in the world. The impact of school closures extends beyond disruption to education – they also carry other risks to children. Children who are out of school are at greater risk of being recruited into labor, abuse, violence and exploitation, and for girls, they are more likely to never return to school when lessons re-commence. As pressures mounts on low income families, children may need to work to bolster family incomes, and girls will face a disproportionately larger burden for caring for family members who contract the virus and taking care of younger children. Therefore, there is a tendency that the situation could add millions more into the existing caseload of out of school children in Nigeria.”
The report also said, “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 children at risk of not returning to school at all in Africa due to the income shock of the pandemic alone.
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 warned 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 also called 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.