COVID-19: A testing time for school children - GulfToday

COVID-19: A testing time for school children


This picture is used for illustrative purpose.

Deep budget cuts to education and rising poverty caused by the COVID-19 pandemic could force at least 9.7 million children out of school forever by the end of this year, with millions more falling behind in learning, according to the Save the Children organization, and the situation is certainly alarming on this front.

The British charity has cited UNESCO data showing that in April as many as 1.6 billion young people were shut out of school and university due to measures to contain COVID-19. That amounts to about 90 per cent of the world’s entire student population.

Adding to the concern, girls are likely to be much worse affected than boys, with many forced into early marriage.

As the impact of the recession triggered by COVID-19 hits families, many children may also be forced out of school and into labour markets.

The Save Our Education report reveals the devastating effects the COVID-19 outbreak is set to have on learning. 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 COVID-19 response areas, that figure could climb to an astonishing $192 billion by the end of 2021.

The report has listed 12 countries where children are most at risk of falling behind, including Niger, Mali, Chad, Liberia, Guinea, Mauritania, Yemen, Senegal and Ivory Coast.

The UAE, on its part, has always remained committed to upholding the rights of children around the world. The UAE recently reiterated that commitment and to the architecture established by the UN Security Council on children and armed conflict.

In a written statement submitted to the UN Security Council for its annual open debate on children and armed conflict, the UAE stated, “The COVID-19 pandemic is having broad-reaching and long-term impacts on lives and livelihoods. For children living in conflict situations, this adds yet another layer of vulnerability. They already struggle to access health services and coverage for their basic needs, including access to education. The weakening of their social protection systems incentivizes child recruitment by armed groups, as well as sexual exploitation.”

The UAE noted that its humanitarian efforts are directed towards the long-term interests of children who are threatened by conflict.

Since 2017, the UAE has worked with UNICEF and other partners to support the education of 20 million children in 59 countries, including the rebuilding of 16 schools in Mosul and Baghdad in the last year alone.

The UAE has also funded two pre-pilot programmes in Iraq and Colombia that allow refugees and vulnerable migrants to get a UNESCO Qualifications Passport in order to have access to higher education and employment opportunities in the future.

As suggested by Save the Children, governments and donors should respond to this global education emergency by urgently investing in education when schools begin to reopen after months of lockdown.

Commercial creditors also need to suspend debt repayments by low-income countries – a move that could free up $14bn for investment in education.

Considering the gravity of the situation, governments should use their budgets to ensure children have access to distance learning whilst lockdown measures remain and initiate all necessary measures to support children who have fallen behind.

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