So how was your experience of schooling during lockdown?
Were you enjoying relaxed afternoons of crafting, or extreme anxiety about learning? Or something inbetween? As British schoolchildren return to the classroom, let’s take a moment on International Literacy Day (8th September) to reflect on the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on education worldwide.
Nearly 1.6 billion children and young people across 190 countries were affected by school closures from March-July 2020[i]. Millions found it hard. But, as ever, the poorest were hit hardest.
The majority of UK home-learners had safe housing and shelter, ipads, mobile phones or laptops, internet, paper and craft materials, gardens or parks, and parents who helped with learning because they themselves are educated.
In contrast, for millions of children living in poverty, home might be a tin shack in 30-degree heat, an overcrowded slum dwelling or a roadside hut, with no electricity, no internet, no food, no running water or handwashing facilities, and often uneducated parents who are jobless, penniless and scared.
A Generational Catastrophe?
You might think that school is the least of their worries. But we cannot afford to ignore education, because education is key to breaking the poverty cycle. Enabling vulnerable and marginalised children to access education equips them for a better future. Without it, nothing changes, and the cycle of poverty grinds on relentlessly.
International Literacy Day 2020 focuses on the impact of Covid-19 on education and on children’s futures, particularly those most disadvantaged. The UN recently warned that the learning crisis risked becoming “a generational catastrophe.”[ii] The UN Secretary General added: ‘Learners with disabilities, members of minority or disadvantaged communities, as well as refugees and displaced persons, are among those at highest risk of being left behind.’[iii]
Determined to support children in their care, Global Care’s grassroots partners navigated lockdowns, curfews, severe travel restrictions and government requirements, initially to provide necessities including food, medical supplies, soap and hand washing facilities. However, as schools across our projects closed, our partners also sought to provide education, emotional support, safety, and structure in children’s lives.
Supporting ‘the poor of the poor’
In many countries, governments provided education through technology – internet, TV and radio. But not everyone could take advantage of it . “Our children are the poor of the poor,” says Soroti co-manager Oumo David,, in Uganda. “Poor rural families and communities have no access to technology.” This was a common challenge for our grassroots partners. In Bangladesh, while city schools provided online classes, our partners said this was ‘completely impossible in this village area’. Even in Uganda’s capital, Kampala, our team told us ‘… more than 70% of our children either lack televisions or don’t have electricity.’
Despite it all, our partners found ways of promoting learning. In Bangladesh, pre-school teachers prepared lesson plans to deliver alongside food parcels, and our partners in Sri Lanka also provided extensive paper learning packs with food deliveries. In Kolkata, India, teachers from the Pavement Club visited homes and helped children with lessons and assignments, despite the risk of the virus. Because they know, better than anyone, the crucial, life-transforming value of education for the poorest.
And what of the future? In Sri Lanka, schools opened on 6th July but closed again after a further Covid-19 outbreak – with no date for re-opening. Amid such uncertainty there is reassurance for our sponsored children. Our Uganda teams say: “…once the Government opens schools, school fees will be paid, and sponsored children can return to school.” Our partners in Guatemala City are preparing extra homework support to help street children catch up with peers who were able to access online learning materials. In Zambia, where exam students are the only pupils allowed back to school, a six-day-a-week, four-week catch-up course is being run through the school holiday at M8 Primary, to help the exam class prepare for crucial exams in November. Plans are underway in Ethiopia and Kenya to ensure schools are Covid-secure and teachers well-prepared when children return.
So, as children in England return to school, spare a thought for children in our projects and for their missed education. Remember our amazing local partners, who haven’t home-schooled one family, but tirelessly worked to ensure that hundreds of the most vulnerable children receive the support they need to keep them alive, and to keep them learning.
Global Care won’t be ignoring the risk of a ‘generational catastrophe’ for the ‘poorest of the poor’ We know our overseas partners will work to the best of their ability to make sure it doesn’t happen to our children. We will do all we can to support them.
Thanks to those who continue to donate to our coronavirus response work through our Children At Risk programme. As well as continued feeding where necessary, a key focus of our response now is to help our partners prepare to welcome children back to schools and children’s centres, in a Covid-secure way, as soon as this is allowed.