With the Sustainable Development Goal 4 (SDG4), the global community committed to realising the right to quality education for all children and adolescents. With an unprecedented number of children currently out of school – currently just under a billion - the COVID-19 crisis puts this promise into more jeopardy than ever before.
Save the Children’s new report – Save Our Education – sets out the impact that COVID-19 will have on the poorest and most marginalised children. Children in families who are pushed into poverty because of COVID-19 may be forced into work because their families are struggling to put food on the table and keep a roof over their head. Indeed Save the Children conducted joint analysis with UNICEF that suggested that COVID-19 was likely to push more than 100 million children into poverty, on top of the 586 million children already in poverty before this crisis hit.
Learning the lessons from Ebola
Kadiatu*, 18, lives in a densely populated fishing community of makeshift homes built with mud and corregated metal sheets. During the Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone, she became pregnant, aged just 13, with a boy from a better off family.
“My family and I were desperate,” says Kadiatu. “We hardly had enough money for food. I even got blurred vision from the hunger. When I asked my mother for food, she would tell me that I’m a big girl, so I should find ways of bringing in money to feed the family.”
“Some girls are going through the same thing [now]. There is no food. Girls need money. What they do not get at home they will likely get from the ‘big man’ on a corner. For those coming up now, they should not make the same mistakes we made. And the parents who allowed us to make these mistakes, we need to tell them to stop it. I was lucky to give birth safely at such a young age. I worry for some of these children because they might not be so lucky”.
All girls need to return to school when it is safe to do so
Before COVID-19, more than 130 million girls were out of school and many of those in school were not learning. As highlighted by Kadiatu’s experience during Ebola-related school closures, there are also significant risks faced by girls, including gender-based violence, early marriage, and dropping out once schools reopen. During the 2014 Sierra Leone Ebola crisis, teenage pregnancy in some areas increased by 65%.
258 million children and young people were out of school before the pandemic. New analysis conducted by Save the Children suggests that this is likely to increase by almost 10 million children due to the economic impact of the virus - and this number is likely to be a significant underestimate. Millions of girls may drop out permanently and never return to school.
The impact of schools closing on a generation of children, including girls, will be immense. This is an education emergency that requires action today.
UK leadership on girls’ education is needed more now than ever
In his first speech as UK Prime Minister, Boris Johnson outlined his Government’s commitment to 12 years of quality education for girls across the globe. The UK Government is a global leader in girls’ education and 2021 set to be a pivotal year for the UK to be able to clearly demonstrate this leadership. With the UK presidency of the G7, the UK Government can build on its record and galvanise other donors, national governments and the private sector to act.
But it is time to take action now. COVID-19 threatens to reverse well won progress on getting more girls into school and learning, and will jeopardise the manifesto commitment to deliver 12 years of quality education for all girls. This leadership can and must start as the Government prepares to deliver the new Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, bringing together development expertise and diplomatic influence to drive real and sustainable change for the children who need it most.
The global response to the COVID-19 education emergency has been limited
Investing in education matters for our recovery from this crisis. Yet to date, the international community has not sufficiently recognised the huge learning crisis the pandemic has caused. This has resulted in limited action and so far a shocking lack of investment in education.
Reform of the education global architecture has been widely commented on, including the need for a global education plan and learning similar lessons from the health sector. A coordinated comprehensive education response is needed now more than ever. Save the Children is calling for a global COVID-19 education action plan that focuses on tangible action to keep learning alive during school closures, prepares for the reopening of schools, ensuring that the most marginalised children, especially girls, do return to school, and to build back better and more resilient education systems.
The UK can play a significant role in bringing the world together to protect education during this time of crisis, by pushing for a coordinated and ambitious response amongst the international community. This is essential and at the very heart of the global recovery effort. We must act now to save the education and life chances of a generation of children.
Read the report - Save Our Education: Protect every child’s right to learn in the COVID-19 response and recovery