As we enter 2021, the world continues to grapple with containing the deadly spread of the COVID-19 virus. And education continues to be the silent victim of this pandemic.
Over a billion children’s education came to a standstill in the early months of 2020, and most were out of school for 6 months or more. Around 200 million children who were in school before the pandemic remain out of school. This number continues to fluctuate up and down as schools have to close and reopen again, either on an individual, local or national level – causing further disruption to children’s learning. Even in countries where schools have reopened, there is a very real danger that some children - particularly the poorest and most marginalised - may not return.
Today, Save the Children is publishing our take on an emergency COVID-19 education plan. This plan includes new research that sets out five, evidence-based actions that governments should prioritise to ensure that children whose education has been disrupted by the pandemic can safely return to school and catch up on the learning they’ve missed out on. We have calculated approximate costs for these actions, and suggest that just over US$50 billion is needed to ensure children can safely go back to school. This works out at an average of $370 per child across the 59 low- and middle-income countries.
These five interventions include:
1) Cash transfers to the world’s poorest families so they can afford their children going back to school once they re-open
2) Catch-up classes to support students to re-enter their education, ensuring that no child is left behind
3) Water, sanitation and hygiene facilities in schools, to make them COVID-19-safe for students, teachers and their families
4) National back to school communications campaigns to persuade communities that it is safe for children to return
5) Effective training for teachers in communicating about the COVID-19 pandemic and the changes within the school to keep everyone safe
The world needs to take urgent action now to get all children who were in school before the pandemic back to school. Save the Children’s own analysis from our Save Our Education campaign launch report last year, suggests that almost 10 million children may never return to school because of the economic impact of the pandemic – and we expect that to be a significant underestimate.
When children are out of school, their learning does not just stop but is likely to regress. Save the Children’s global survey of 25,000 children and caregivers found that four out of five children felt that they were learning little or nothing at all while out of school. Girls, displaced children and children living in poor households are most likely to report that they had learned nothing at all during school closures.
However, at a time when governments should be investing in children and their education, budgets are being hollowed out by a recession and the diversion of public spending to health care and economic recovery. Most of the world’s poorest countries, especially in Africa, entered the economic downturn with limited financial space. That room for maneuver is now shrinking further as recession bites and external-debt problems intensify.
With a looming economic crisis that will hit poorest countries the hardest, the international community must step up and take action. They must fund this emergency package of interventions to support the safe return to learning for millions - and our briefing suggests some of the ways in which they can do this.
We are calling for World Bank members to agree to a supplementary IDA (International Development Association) budget of around US$25 billion over the next two years, which would require US$10 billion in donor grant contributions. This would provide an additional US$3.4 billion for education and US$3.5 billion for social protection. The World Bank should also work with the IMF (International Monetary Fund) to strengthen the Debt Service Suspension Initiative to secure a freeze on US$48 billion of debt service payments during 2021.
Donors also have a key opportunity in 2021 to step up and fund education, with the replenishment of the Global Partnership for Education (GPE) – the largest fund for global education. It is imperative for the futures of the poorest and most marginalised children that GPE achieves its replenishment target of US$5 billion for 2021-2025.
Time after time, children living in some of the world’s most difficult places say they want one thing above all else; to go to school. School is not just a place to learn. It is a place for children to meet friends, eat a nutritious meal, take a break from life at home, and a safe place. We cannot forget the impact of COVID-19 on children. This pandemic threatens to rob children of the learning that could lift them out of poverty, and places them at increased risk of child marriage, forced labor, violence, and exploitation. It is now more important than ever that we listen to, amplify, and act on children’s voices - and get all children safely back to school.