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Education in a quarter of the world’s countries is on the brink of collapse without urgent action 

6 September 2021 – The education of hundreds of millions of children in a quarter of the world’s countries is at extreme or high risk of collapsing, Save the Children said today. New analysis from the organisation finds that factors such as climate change, a lack of COVID-19 vaccines, displacement, attacks on schools and lack of digital connectivity are jeopardising access to schooling.

The news that education is on the brink of collapse in 48 countries comes as academic school years tentatively re-start in many parts of the world. Yet millions of children are still unable to go into the classroom due to COVID-19 safety measures, economic impacts of the pandemic and continued attacks on education. This is in addition to the 258 million children across the world who were already out of school prior to the pandemic[i].

COVID-19 has disrupted schooling for more than 90% of the world’s learners[ii]. Save the Children is calling for leaders to learn from this crisis and shock-proof education systems to ensure children in a quarter of the world’s countries are not stripped of their futures.

According to the children’s charity’s  new report, Build Forward Better, the DRC, Nigeria, Somalia, Afghanistan[iii], South Sudan, Sudan, Mali, and Libya have education systems that are at ‘extreme risk’. Syria and Yemen follow closely behind.

13-year-old Salem’s* school in Yemen was damaged in the country’s long conflict. He said: “I wasn’t doing well at school because there are no blackboards there and no activities. The playground was destroyed, the blackboards were all broken. Studying is important as I wish to become a doctor in the future.”

Save the Children has been rehabilitating schools in Yemen and Salem has now returned to the classroom.  He said: “When they (the schools) are not fixed, and there’s no education, no teacher… we are unable to learn. We do not feel safe when the schools are not fixed.”

Sergio*, 16, fled economic hardship in Venezuela for Colombia three years ago and lives in a refugee settlement with his four brothers, mother and her companion. He has not been at school since the pandemic started and, with the support of Save the Children, is attempting to learn from home. Colombia is a country identified as ‘high risk’ in the new research.

He said: “We’re not at school. I really need it, because if I don’t study, I won’t reach my goal.

“I imagine myself having graduated as a forensic doctor, that I have a new life, a better living standard.”

It is estimated that 10-16 million[iv] children are at risk of not returning to school due to economic impacts of COVID-19 alone. Parents may pull children out of school to work, or they may be forced into early marriage.

The climate crisis exacerbates the already huge risk, as schools are damaged or destroyed by extreme weather events. Increasing numbers of children are likely to flee their homes, leaving behind their education.

The international community, including donors, must step up and take responsibility for some of the factors placing education systems at risk, Save the Children said. The charity pointed to the recent Global Education Summit co-hosted by the UK government, which failed to raise its $5 billion target for global education, as an example of weak commitment to the world’s poorest children. The UK’s own pledge fell well short of expectations and failed to galvanise the global action required. This was in addition to the UK’s decision to cut the aid for education in some of the world’s poorest and most fragile countries by 25%.

The new data, which is the first of its kind and is disaggregated for girls and boys, follows recent research, which found that on average, children in low-income countries have lost 66% more of their lifetime schooldays during the pandemic compared with their peers in more well-off countries.

Gwen Hines, CEO of Save the Children, said:

We already know that it is the poorest children who have suffered the most as a result of COVID-19 school closures.

“But sadly COVID-19 is just one of the factors putting education – and children’s lives today and tomorrow – under threat. Each year 75 million children have their education disrupted by emergencies. Climate and environmental threats like cyclones, floods and drought are responsible for half that toll. Climate-related events have already contributed to over 50 million children being forced from their homes[v]. Abhorrent attacks on schools continue in countries like Nigeria and Yemen.

“If the UK government seriously wants to be a global leader on girls’ education it needs to reverse its decision on aid cuts and ensure funding for education reaches the countries most impacted by COVID-19, conflict and the climate crisis, particularly as the UK prepares to host COP 26 later this year.”

Other factors creating a perfect storm for the next generation include huge youth unemployment, limited primary school education and the digital divide in access to remote learning, Save the Children said.

The report says that to save children’s education and prepare for the future, ministries of education and donors must work to tackle these threats to schooling. International donors should significantly increase their investment in the education systems of affected countries.

Hines continued: “We need to learn from this dreadful experience and act now– but it is simply not good enough to build ‘back’ to how things were. We need to build ‘forward’ and differently, using this as an opportunity for hope and positive change.

“A child’s right to education does not end in an emergency.”



Notes to editors

  • Save the Children proposes an eight-point plan to build forward better. This includes:
  1. COVID-19 RECOVERY: Ensure children can return to school safely and get their learning back on track.
  2. PREPAREDNESS AND ANTICIPATORY ACTION: Every country must have an integrated preparedness plan to secure children’s learning and wellbeing in future crises.
  3. TARGET OUT-OF-SCHOOL CHILDREN: Ensure children who face discrimination and were out of school before the pandemic can access safe learning opportunities.
  4. KEEP LEARNING SAFE: Protect learning from violence and attacks, and from the impact of the climate emergency.
  5. SCALE UP AND ADAPT FINANCING: Urgently fill the education financing gap and adjust financing modalities to enable anticipatory action.
  6. GET THE DATA RIGHT: Collect more and improved data, and continuously share data widely for agile decision-making on preparedness and anticipatory action and policy making.
  7. FOCUS ON EQUITY AND CHILD PARTICIPATION: Reach the children most affected by inequality and discrimination first and include children in analysing, designing, implementing and evaluating programmes.
  8. SHIFT POWER: Move decision-making power and resources into national and local civil society.


[i] UNESCO, 2019 New Methodology Shows that 258 Million Children, Adolescents and Youth Are Out of School - World | ReliefWeb

[ii] Save our Education report, Save the Children, July 2020

[iii] This index was put together prior to the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan in August 2021

[iv] Different estimates exist on the impact of COVID-19 on children dropping out-of-school, including from Save the Children and UNESCO. This figure describes the range of estimates across both analyses.

[v] Climate Mobility and Children, UNICEF 2020

For available content, please click on the links below:

  • Sergio*, 16, Colombia:


  • Salem*, 13, and Afrah*, 15, Yemen


  • Joseph, 6, Edith, 6,  Uganda:



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