Every child has the right to an education
Education transforms lives and breaks the cycle of poverty that traps so many children. Education for girls is essential — an educated mother will make sure her children go to and stay in school. Yet, according to 2019 estimates, 53 percent of children in low- and middle-income countries leave primary school unable to read and understand a simple story; in sub-Saharan Africa, that figure rises to 87 percent. Only half of refugee children have attended primary school, and less than a quarter have attended secondary school; girls being particularly at risk.
That was before the coronavirus pandemic hit and turned an education crisis into a catastrophe that will have overwhelming short- and long-term consequences.
At the beginning of the pandemic, nearly 1.6 billion children were affected by school closures. Some didn’t return to their classrooms for months. At the pandemic's one-year mark, 168 million children's schools had remained closed for almost an entire year. During those months, 1 in 3 schoolchildren had no access to education.
Arif, 12, was working in a shoe factory in Bangladesh when a UNICEF-supported program secured him a spot at a learning center, where kids between 8 and 14 years old, who either never went to school or dropped out, can learn. His mother, 32, is grateful: “I feared that Arif would fall into bad company. I was happy that Surovi [UNICEF's partner] teachers found Arif at the shoe factory and took him under their wings. Their flexible class hours helped me make the right decision.” © UNICEF/UN0393284/Satu
What happens to a child who can't go to school?
- Girls from impoverished communities, who may face conflict at home, will see their prospects — of returning to school or escaping poverty — slip away. Rates of teenage pregnancy, child labor and early marriage — among girls whose families can’t cope — skyrocket
- Children who can't participate in remote learning because they live in homes with no electricity, internet or the necessary technology to download or access online lessons are entirely left behind
- Younger children or those who were already below grade level are at greater risk of lifelong poverty. They also have lower life expectancy and poorer health outcomes
- Across the board, children’s health suffers. In many parts of the world, school is where children get health care, immunizations and their one nutritious meal of the day
- Children who experience abuse, neglect or dysfunctional parenting at home suffer the double trauma of being cut off from supportive teachers and friends
How UNICEF helps kids learn
In every emergency or humanitarian crisis, UNICEF works to get children learning again as quickly as possible. UNICEF's education programs also help kids develop skills to cope with trauma and supply them with learning spaces that are safe, child-friendly and equipped with water and sanitation facilities.
UNICEF has employed that approach to help children cope with multiple disruptions and deprivations.
- In Syria, where a decade of violence compounded COVID-19's assault on education, programs implemented by UNICEF with support from partners like Educate A Child are reaching tens of thousands more students in need every year. UNICEF provides kids who are working or missing out on a formal classroom experience workbooks covering core subjects (Arabic, English, mathematics and science) they are now using to keep up with their studies at home or at a community center
- At the height of 2020 school closures to prevent the spread of coronavirus, UNICEF and partners created remote-learning programs offering online instruction and recorded lessons broadcast over radio and television. For students in remote areas, radio has been the key to maintaining much-needed educational continuity
- The flexibility and interactivity of online instruction are a fail-safe when in-person classes are not an option. But with two-thirds of school-age children lacking connectivity at home, lack of internet access is a significant threat to students' education. Since 2019, UNICEF and partner ITU (the International Telecommunication Union, a United Nations agency) have been tackling that inequity through Giga, a global initiative to connect every school in the world to the internet and every student to information, opportunity and choice by 2030
Whether by setting up temporary classrooms for child refugees, building child-friendly schools, distributing books and other learning materials, training teachers or even rebuilding an entire educational system, UNICEF is committed to kids' learning.
Top photo: Students attend pre-primary classes at Shilchari Para Kendra, in Rangamati, a district in the remote Chittagong Hill Tracts region of southeastern Bangladesh. © UNICEF/UNI158449/Mawa