A UN study has found that 222 million children and adolescents worldwide have had their education disrupted by multiple crises that have rocked various parts of the world in the past six years.
The study was produced by Education Cannot Wait, the UN global fund for education in emergencies and protracted crises. When the organisation was created in 2016, the number of crisis-affected children whose education had been disrupted stood at around 75 million, but ECW director Yasmine Sherif said that multiple crises over the past six years have boosted the number to 222 million among more than 40 countries.
“Conflicts are raging around the world — we know that, but they also are more and more protracted. But the growing record-high number of refugees and internally displaced, as a result of conflicts and climate-induced disasters, has also contributed to this number, as has, of course, the Covid-19 pandemic,” Sherif said.
The study also found that 78.2 million children worldwide have dropped out of school entirely, while education experts believe those children are unlikely to return to their studies.
This results in a detrimental impact on their prospects and earning capacity.
“When you do not go to school, you are very exposed to being — if you are a boy — forcibly recruited into armed groups, terrorist groups, militia, government groups,” she said.
“And, if you are a girl, you are exposed to becoming part of a gender-based violence at homes, sexual violence, trafficking, early marriages, and early childbirth.”
Sherif has made this analysis after visiting crisis-ridden countries where most children currently are out of school such as Mali, Chad, the Central African Republic and South Sudan.
She has called on the international community to do more to support children’s educational needs, or “there will be far-reaching negative impacts for human and economic development”.
In South Africa, according to research by Stellenbosch University, the findings are extremely concerning.
There is an urgent need to bridge the gap in education post-Covid, with losses indicating that learners in 2021 fell more than a year of learning behind learners in the same grade in 2019.
As per the report, two policy areas required special attention: The first is to find more time for maths, to overcome the deficit that has accumulated during the Covid years.
For instance, Grade 9 learners in 2021 are performing more than a year behind Grade 9 learners two years earlier, so they must catch up a full year before they sit to write their matric exams. This requires that they progress more than four years in the three years before they write matric.
In language, the big challenge is to ensure that reading has been mastered in the Foundation Phase, while at the same time giving urgent attention to easing the language transition.
Weak reading skills and English vocabulary can inhibit all further learning for the majority of learners who have to make this language transition.
Education expert Aunyana Moloisane, who is based at Optimi Classroom, a learning academy, said they feel strongly about assisting learners and teachers in bridging the gap caused by the unforeseen effects of Covid.
“We believe that we owe it to our learners to ensure that they are not left behind, as this may have a negative snowball effect later in their learning journey.
“Optimi would like to partner with schools and provincial education departments to redress the learning gaps. Our learning solutions, particularly diagnostic testing, will benefit teachers and learners immensely,” Moloisane said.