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UNESCO report on education shows Covid-19 slowing global education rate

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) report on inclusion in education shows Covid-19 leaving vulnerable children behind.

By Vatican News

The 2020 Global Education Monitoring (GEM) Report by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) indicates that the Covid-19 crisis is adversely impacting the global rate of education, particularly of disadvantaged learners.

According to the report released on Tuesday, fewer than 10 percent of countries have laws that ensure full inclusion in education. Besides, 40 percent of the poorest countries did not provide specific support to disadvantaged learners during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The report, titled “Inclusion and education: All means All”, lists background, identity and ability as some of the broader "key factors" analyzed for this report. It also promotes a set of key recommendations for the next ten years and urges countries to focus on those left behind as schools reopen, in order to foster “more resilient and equal societies.”

“To rise to the challenges of our time, a move towards more inclusive education is imperative,” said UNESCO Director-General, Audrey Azoulay. “Rethinking the future of education is all the more important following the Covid-19 pandemic…failure to act will hinder the progress of societies.”


According to the report, 258 million children and youth are out of school, mostly due to poverty. About 97 million of these are in sub-Saharan Africa.

In low and middle-income countries, 20 percent of the adolescents from richer homes are three times more likely to complete lower secondary school than those from the poor homes. Students from richer households were also twice as likely to have basic reading and mathematics skills than those from poorer households.

Inadequate representation

The report also highlights that when learners are inadequately represented in textbooks and curricula, they feel alienated. 

It points out that girls and women make up only 44 percent of references in secondary school English textbooks in Malaysia and Indonesia, 37 percent in Bangladesh and 24 percent in the Punjab province in Pakistan. Also, the curricula of 23 out of 49 European countries do not address issues of sexual orientation, gender identity and expression.

UNESCO also reports that 10-year old students in middle and high-income countries who were taught in a language other than their mother tongue scored 34 percent lower than native speakers in reading tests. 

Persistent exclusion

In several central and eastern European countries, Roma (an Indo-Aryan migrant ethnic group) children are segregated in mainstream schools. In Asia, displaced people such as the Rohingya are taught in parallel education systems. 

In Africa, two countries still ban pregnant girls from school, 117 allow child marriages and 20 others have yet to ratify the Convention of the International Labour Organization (ILO) that bans child labour.

The report also notes that despite the target of universal upper secondary completion by 2030, hardly any poor rural young women complete secondary school in at least 20 countries, most of them in sub-Saharan Africa.

Separated disadvantaged learners

Parents’ beliefs were found to be a barrier to inclusion. According to the report, about 15 percent of parents in Germany and 59 percent in Hong Kong feared that children with disabilities disturbed the others’ learning.

Parents with vulnerable children also showed a trend of moving their children to schools that respond to their needs. In Queensland, Australia, 37 percent of students in special schools had moved from mainstream establishments.

Many education systems did not take learners’ special needs into account. For example, only 41 countries worldwide officially recognize sign language.

In ten Francophone countries in sub-Saharan Africa, fewer than 1 in 10 primary school teachers said they had received training on inclusion. However, a quarter of the teachers across 48 countries reported that they wanted more training in teaching special needs students.

Data challenges

The GEM report indicates a “chronic lack of quality data on those left behind.” According to UNESCO, “almost half of low- and middle-income countries do not collect enough education data about children with disabilities.”

41 percent of countries (about 13 percent of the world’s population) did not conduct surveys or make data from such surveys available. Thus, figures were mostly taken from school and did not take those not in school into account.

The effects Covid-19 pandemic

“Even before Covid-19, one in five children, adolescents and youth were entirely excluded from education. Stigma, stereotypes and discrimination mean millions more are further alienated inside classrooms,” said the GEM report Director, Manos Antoninis. 

However, “Covid-19 is already playing a role in creating more exclusion from education,” he said adding that “for hundreds of millions of people, learning has completely stopped.” 

The movement to learning online in many parts of the world means that just about 12 percent of households in high-income countries, which have access to the internet, can support the education of their children.

Steps towards inclusion

The report indicated that some countries are using positive and innovative approaches to promote inclusion. 

For example, countries like Malawi, Cuba and Ukraine are setting up resource centers in multiple schools that enable mainstream schools to accommodate children from special schools. 

The Gambia, New Zealand and Samoa, among others, are also using itinerant teachers to teach underserved populations.

Odisha state in India uses 21 tribal languages in its classrooms and Kenya adjusted its curriculum to fit the nomadic calendar. In Australia, the curricula of 19 percent of students were adjusted by teachers so that their expected outcomes could match the students’ needs.

23 June 2020, 17:07