The education of hundreds of millions of children is hanging by a thread as a result of an unprecedented intensity of threats including Covid 19 and the climate crisis, a report warned today.
As classrooms across much of the world prepare to reopen after the summer holidays, a quarter of countries – most of them in sub-Saharan Africa – have school systems that are at extreme or high risk of collapse, according to Save the Children.
The UN estimates that, for the first time in history, about 1.5 billion children were out of school during the pandemic, with at least a third unable to access remote learning.
Now, as much of the developing world faces a combination of interrelated crises including extreme poverty, Covid-19, climate breakdown and intercommunal violence, there are growing fears for a “lost generation of learners”.
In an analysis ranking countries according to their vulnerability, Save the Children found eight countries to have school systems at “extreme risk”, with the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Nigeria and Somalia deemed most vulnerable, with Afghanistan following closely behind.
The analysis calculated how vulnerable school systems were as a result of a range of factors including coronavirus vaccination coverage, the climate crisis, physical attacks, and the proportion of school-age children with a home internet connection.
It found that a further 40 countries, including Yemen, Burkina Faso, India, the Philippines and Bangladesh, were all at “high risk”.
Gwen Hines, chief executive of Save the Children UK, 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.”
She added: “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.”
As much of the developed world welcomes a return to more normal schooling this term, more than 100 million children remain out of the classroom in other parts of the world due to nationwide Covid closures in 16 countries, according to Unicef.
It is feared that between 10 and 16 million children are at risk of not returning to school at all, with girls most vulnerable.
Rob Jenkins, global director of education at Unicef, said that even before the pandemic, much of the world had been experiencing a global learning crisis.
“Now we are running a risk of a losing a generation of learners,” he warned. “It could have lifelong implications unless we move to catch-up programmes offering full, comprehensive support to children – not just for their learning but also for their mental health, nutritional support [and] a sense of protection.”