By Robin Gomes
At least a third of children worldwide did not have access to remote learning when the Covid-19 pandemic shuttered schools. This created an “education emergency”, said the United Nations Children’s Fund UNICEF. At the height of the pandemic lockdown, nearly 1.5 billion children were affected by school closures, said a UNICEF report released on Thursday.
No remote learning
“For at least 463 million children whose schools closed due to COVID-19, there was no such a thing as remote learning,” said Henrietta Fore, UNICEF Executive Director. “The sheer number of children whose education was completely disrupted for months on end is a global education emergency,” she warned. “The repercussions could be felt in economies and societies for decades to come. , she added.
The report, which comes as countries worldwide grapple with “back-to-school” plans, also exposes deep inequalities in access across regions.
School children in sub-Saharan Africa were the worst affected, with at least 121 million - that is, half of all students - having no access to remote learning. The highest number of children who could not be reached by remote learning, in absolute terms, is in South Asia: at least 147 million.
School children from the poorest households and those living in rural areas are also at high risk of missing out during closures. Globally, 72 per cent of schoolchildren unable to access remote learning live in their countries’ poorest households. In upper-middle-income countries, school children from the poorest households account for up to 86 per cent of those unable to access remote learning.
Age groups also had an impact, with the youngest students most likely to miss out on remote learning during their most critical years of learning and development.
Even with the availability of technology and resources at home - such as access to television, radio, internet and broadcast curricula - school children may not be able to learn remotely, due to pressures to do chores and work or the lack of support in using the online or broadcast platforms.
As governments plan safe re-opening of schools after lockdown, UNICEF is urging them to invest in bridging the digital divide.
“When reopening is not possible, [we] urge governments to incorporate compensatory learning for lost instructional time into school continuity and reopening plans,” the UN agency said. School opening policies and practices, it said, must include expanding access to education, including remote learning, especially for marginalized groups. Education systems must also be adapted and built to withstand future crises.