London, 13 July 2020 (MIA) — 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 2020, with millions more falling behind in learning, according to Save the Children in a new report launched today.
Girls are likely to be much worse affected than boys, with many forced into early 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 calling 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 – a move that could free up USD 14 billion for investment in education.
“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,” said Inger Ashing, CEO of Save the Children.
The agency calls for governments to use their budgets to ensure children have access to distance learning while lockdown measures remain, and to support children who have fallen behind.
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 USD 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 USD 192 billion by the end of 2021.
The impending budget crunch comes after lockdown measures saw a peak of 1.6 billion children out of school, globally.
“Around 10 million children,” Ms Ashing said, “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 marginalized 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.”
In many countries, Save the Children has provided distance learning materials such as books and home learning kits to support learners during lockdown, working closely with governments and teachers to provide lessons and support through radio, television, phone, social media and messaging apps.
Save the Children warns that school closures have meant much more than education loss for many children – taking away safe places where children can play with friends, have meals and access health services, including services for their mental health. Teachers are often front-line responders and protectors for children who might suffer from abuse at home. With school closures, these safeguards fall away.
“If we allow this education crisis to unfold,” Ashing continued, “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 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 COVID-19 get in the way.”
Save the Children urges governments and donors to ensure that out-of-school children have access to distance learning, and to protection services. Those who return to school should be able to do so in a safe and inclusive way, with access to school meals and health services. Learning assessments and catch up classes must be adapted so that children can make up for their lost learning.
To ensure this happens, Save the Children is calling for an increased funding of education, with USD 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.