School shutdowns to prevent the spread of COVID-19 have affected 1.5 billion children all over the world, and the disruption can be particularly devastating for girls, threatening to roll back decades of progress. Out-of-school girls are at greater risk of gender-based violence and more likely to be pushed into early marriage. Many girls may never return to the classroom.
Since the very early days of the pandemic, UNICEF has been working to ensure that children get the support they need to continue their education, tailoring programs to fit the circumstances. For some, that means distance learning, with lessons delivered via internet, radio or television. For others, it means the cautious reopening of classrooms using guidelines prepared by UNICEF and partners. Below, three girls share their experiences of learning and growing in the time of COVID-19.
When schools closed in Kamuli District, Eastern Uganda, 13-year-old Nanyonjo Desire Catherine (above) tuned in to UNICEF-supported radio lessons to keep up with her math, science and English lessons. UNICEF has provided more than 2,606,405 children and adolescents in Uganda with home-learning materials since the pandemic began.
Now she and her classmates can visit their school to access learning materials using a MobiStation, a suitcase containing a computer that displays digital content on Kolibri, UNICEF's innovative learning platform. A free and open source E-learning portal designed for students in hard-to-reach areas, Kolibri is uploaded with digital lessons that students can view on demand, without accessing the internet.
"I get time to come here after doing my work at home," she says. "When I grow up, I want to be a lawyer. I also want to sit in those big offices. They [will] drive me in the car and take me to judge the suspect."
In La Paz, Bolivia, 6-year-old Ángeles (above) spends a lot of her time alone at home, keeping up with her schoolwork, and drawing and painting. She's also keeping up with her friends, through the Vino Tinto municipal sports school, which moved onto Zoom during the pandemic. On the first day, "I was a little nervous," she says. "We did jumping jacks and played Simon says."
Designed to get kids up and moving to stay physically fit, the UNICEF-supported program also encourages children's emotional well-being, emphasizing values that create a healthy society: peaceful coexistence, responsibility, respect for self and others.
Sports school has made Ángeles feel less isolated during quarantine, her mother says. "She knows that she is not alone, and that she can feel like other children feel," she says.
When schools closed in South Asia, 434 million children were shut out of their classrooms. Girls were more adversely affected than boys, less likely to have access to digital devices, more likely to be burdened with housework and caring for their families.
Now older students are returning to class in Afghanistan, including Sahar, 17 (above), who lives in Kandahar. But some of her friends have not reappeared. Even before COVID-19, up to 85 percent of girls in her area were not enrolled in school.
"I hope they will come back to school," says Sahar pointing to the empty desks where her friends used to sit. "Education is very important for us girls, especially here in Afghanistan. When I grow up, I want to become an engineer to build Afghanistan."
In 144 countries around the world, UNICEF works to provide learning opportunities that prepare children and adolescents with the knowledge and skills they need to thrive. Please donate to help children get the best possible start in life.
Top photo: At an event for World Children’s Day 2020, 13-year-old Nanyonjo Desire Catherine, a student at Kiwolera Primary School in Kamuli District, Eastern Uganda, spoke about how UNICEF has helped her continue her education during the COVID-19 pandemic. © UNICEF/UN0374837/Abdul