Since its outbreak in late December 2019, COVID-19 has imperilled countries across the world and like any critical sector education has been hit hard. Students and schools have been deeply impacted. UNESCO estimates that as of the 2nd April 188 countries have closed schools nationwide, impacting over 1.5 billion children and youth.
Send My Friend to School campaigns for all children to receive a quality inclusive education, to promote and defend education as a fundamental human right and work towards achieving Sustainable Development Goal 4 (SDG4).
We are extremely concerned about how this crisis harms the right of all children to access a quality education. School gates, which over a billion children walk through every day, have closed without knowing when they will next open. Lessons, which millions of teachers have prepared, are going untaught. And families, millions of whom have few resources, are facing the challenge of home-schooling.
This crisis will hit all children and their families hard, but it will affect some more than others. The most vulnerable children – the poorest, girls, children with disabilities, refugees – are most at risk. These children already face enormous barriers in accessing education and this is being compounded by the COVID-19 pandemic and the measures taken to mitigate its spread. The benefits that students usually receive whilst schools are open are now difficult to access. For example, children with disabilities often have access to rehabilitation, referral to health services, social protection and child protection.
We know that education is life-saving and life-sustaining. We also know that for many vulnerable children in the global south, the longer they are out of school, the more likely it is that they will never return. Long-term school closures in the face of health crises can also have lasting impacts on inequalities. This includes increasing a child’s vulnerability to exploitation, increasing vulnerability – particularly for girls, higher incidences of child marriage and sexual assault, and recruitment into armed groups. These long-term consequences may be exacerbated by existing discrimination and harmful social norms that negatively impact marginalised groups, including children with disabilities and girls.
This is why it is essential that leaders around the world ensure continuity of education during this pandemic. While formal education for most children has now paused, and teaching and learning cannot continue as normal, finding safe and temporary alternatives is crucial. We must invest now in system-wide solutions and align our support behind coordinated actions that will enable continuity of education, a speedy recovery and build resilience, particularly in the global south. Once the epidemic is over and schools reopen, governments must make every effort to ensure that children return to school as soon as it is safe to do so.
Send My Friend to School believes that all learners no matter where they live and what circumstances they find themselves in have a right to education. Education is essential for children in emergencies and must be a priority from the very beginning of any and all emergency responses. Send My Friend to School therefore calls on the UK government to ensure that education is a key part of their aid response to the Covid-19 pandemic. Education must be protected for all, particularly to support the most vulnerable and marginalised children around the world.