Uh oh, you are using an old web browser that we no longer support. Some of this website's features may not work correctly because of this. Learn about updating to a more modern browser here.

Skip To Content

The UK must close the financing gap to prevent irreversible impacts of lost learning

By Anya Cowley, Education Advisor and Chiara Orlassino, Research Advisor in Global Policy, Advocacy and Research

Families across parts of the UK celebrated the reopening of schools this week, giving children a chance to see friends and teachers, and parents a break from home-schooling. More than one year on since the start of the pandemic, it signals the return to some sense of normality. 

Children told us they were happy and excited to go back to school, having lost, on average, 38 days of education each – a whopping 373 million in total – since the pandemic’s onset, according to our new analysis.[1]

As classrooms reopen for UK children, the UK Government also has an important role to play in ensuring the safe return to school and learning for the most marginalised children globally.

Yet the UK Government has announced plans to slash UK aid funding from 0.7% to 0.5% of gross national income, which could see a million girls lose out on schooling.

2021 is a critical year for the UK Government to demonstrate leadership on the global stage. As President of the G7, and co-host of the Global Partnership for Education (GPE) Replenishment this year, and with our departure from the EU, all eyes are on the UK. Is this the Global Britain we want to be?

If the UK Government is to live up to its promises, it must step up its own global education financing by pledging at least £600 million to GPE over the next five years and ensure children – especially girls - safely return to school and catch up on lost learning.

112 billion days of lost learning

Globally, we estimate that children have lost on average 74 days of education each due to school closures and a lack of access to remote learning – more than a third of the standard global 190-day school year.[2]

In total, an estimated 112 billion days of education have been lost altogether, with children in low-income countries disproportionately affected.

Our new analysis of data for 194 countries and different regions shows that figures vary widely across regions: children in Latin America and the Caribbean, and South Asia, missed out on 110 days - almost triple the education days of children in Western Europe, who missed on average 38.

Santiago, 13, attends a school for children with hearing losses supported by Save the Children in Venezuela. The school has been closed since the start of the pandemic.

“What makes me feel sad, worried, and scared is not being able to return to school,” said Santiago. “People understand me there. When I can´t go to school, I cry and just want to sleep. What I would tell the children in the world who are feeling sad or scared or worried is that they are my friends. And that they are not alone.”

Our analysis estimates lost days of education a year into the pandemic, from mid-February 2020 to the beginning of February 2021. To calculate this, our research experts looked at data on school closures, enrolment rates, access to remote learning, school-aged population, and the effectiveness of learning from home instead of attending school in person. While 74 days per child is a staggering number, it is most likely an underestimate, meaning that lost days of education are probably much higher.

Anna, 12, keeps learning from home in Karamoja, northeast Uganda

Anna, 12, keeps learning from home in Karamoja, northeast Uganda


The true cost of school closures for the most marginalised children

The impact of the pandemic has caused the greatest education emergency in history, with devastating consequences for the learning, health, protection, and well-being of children both at home and abroad.

At the height of the pandemic, school closures caused 90 per cent of the total school-aged population to miss out on education, including 743 million girls.[3] When children are out of school, their learning does not just stop, but may regress. Our global survey of 25,000 children and caregivers found four in five children felt they were learning little or nothing whilst out of school, with girls at greatest risk. More than half of girls reported an increase in household chores and increased caregiving responsibilities which stopped them from being able to study.[4]

The economic impacts have plunged millions more children into poverty, putting children at increased risk of child marriage, forced labour, violence, and exploitation, which may lead children to drop out of school.

Globally, girls are at greatest risk of dropping out, which will further entrench gender gaps in education. An additional 2.5 million girls are at risk of child marriage, and adolescent pregnancies are expected to rise by up to 1 million, due to the economic impacts of the pandemic in 2020 alone.[5] In a Save the Children study of the DRC, parents reported that girls have been married or become impregnated during the lockdown, which was a concern for their return to school.[6]

In the UK, lockdown has put family finances under pressure, and mental health at risk. In our recent survey, parents said they were worried about their children’s mental wellbeing and falling behind at school, and many have struggled to pay bills and buy food. 

Rising needs, but a growing financing gap

Governments have an important role to play in preventing the irreversible impacts that lost school days may have on the lives of millions of marginalized children, especially girls.

Yet education budgets are being hollowed out by recession and public spending diverted to the health and economic response. According to the World Bank, two-thirds of low- and lower-middle-income countries (LIMCs) have cut their public education budgets since the onset of the pandemic.[7]

The estimated annual education financing gap in LIMCs has risen by a third due to the impacts of COVID-19, from US$148 billion by up to an additional US$45 billion.[8] This is at a time of declining aid to education, projected to decrease by 12% globally from 2018-2022.[9]

Lost school days don’t have to mean lost futures

The Prime Minister has stated his personal commitment to girls’ education. Just this year, he said ensuring 12 years of quality education for every girl is the “simplest and most transformative thing we can do” to tackle poverty and end gender-based violence.

However, according to our new analysis the UK Government slashed its education spending between 2019 and 2020 by more than 30%, including to primary education, irrespective of the projects focus on gender equality. Cuts undermine the Conservative’s manifesto commitment and put children’s futures on the line.

When announcing the proposed cuts to the 0.7% commitment last year, the Government promised to protect funding for priority areas, including girls’ education.

Save the Children, together with the Send My Friend to School coalition is calling on the UK Government to contribute at least £600 million to help GPE achieve its target of $5 billion for the next five years.

Whilst children will never get back lost school days, an early and ambitious pledge will enable GPE to deliver quality, equitable learning, and protect the futures of the most marginalised children. It will also ensure that the UK walks the talk on delivering girls’ education.


[1] This is based on 9.8 million learners in the UK. The period the UK estimate covers is 16 February 2020 – 24 February 2021. Whilst schools were closed for much longer, this figure accounts for the remote learning schemes which most schools put in place. Evidence suggests that home learning has not met the same levels of quality as learning at school.

[2] The global estimate covers the period between 16 February 2020 – 2 February 2021, due to lack of recent data.

[3] UNESCO (2020) https://en.unesco.org/news/covid-19-school-closures-around-world-will-hit-girls-hardest

[4] Save the Children, Protect A Generation (2020) https://resourcecentre.savethechildren.net/node/18218/pdf/vr59-01_protect_a_generation_report_en_0.pdf

[5] Save the Children, Global Girlhood Report (2020) https://www.savethechildren.es/sites/default/files/2020-09/Global_Girlhood_Report%202020.pdf

[6] Save the Children, Institute of Development Studies & Institut Superieur Pedagogique de Bukavu, The Impact of COVID-19 on Education in South Kivu, DRC, Short Study (October 2020) (internal project paper)

[7] https://reliefweb.int/sites/reliefweb.int/files/resources/375577eng.pdf

[8] https://unesdoc.unesco.org/ark:/48223/pf0000374163

[9] https://reliefweb.int/sites/reliefweb.int/files/resources/373844eng.pdf

Share this blog