At this age of uncertainty, education is facing one of the greatest threats for a generation in terms of COVID 19. This pandemic led to an unprecedented disruption of learning for children around the world. Even before it, education worldwide was facing challenges in terms of disparity and distribution. World bank’s, Learning Poverty indicator rated that over 53% of children under 10 could not read and write in Low- and Middle income- countries. With this international crisis, the pandemic has caused more than 1.6 billion learners to be out of school. This could be approximated as over 50% of the world’s learners, a phenomenon never seen before in recent history.
Yet, for some children, it has not only affected learning but also heightened their risk of being left behind. The vulnerable, such as refugees, those living in poverty, and disability may be adversely affected in ways that they could never recover.
Even though most of the world’s ministries of education introduced distance learning, primarily through the internet, virtual learning, television, and radio broadcasting, many recipients of these needed services pointed out circumstances and available resources varied considerably between regions, in some contexts the barriers to distance learning for refugee students were described as insurmountable.
The main challenges elicited included:
- Access to remote learning resources:
Inability to access electricity, the internet, tv, and radios has been termed the biggest barrier to remote learning. In some cases, radio frequencies could not be accessed limiting learners from even the basic source of information that could help them in their education or process of handling the pandemic.
- Availability of household support:
Lack of educated household members qualified to guide and help learners through education at home is another main challenge. Most parents from vulnerable homes are not educated hence not able to assist their children with basic assistance. Also, being a difficult time economically on a global scale, most would prefer for the learner to assist in generating income to boost the family’s chances of survival introducing a future challenge of child labor that continues to be discouraged the world over.
With remote learning, it’s almost impossible to monitor the progress of most learners as some lack infrastructure to access or be evaluated to gauge their progress and effectiveness of remote learning modalities.
- Teacher training:
Most teachers have limited to no training on how to support students during periods of remote learning. This, coupled with protracted closures of learning institutions builds up concerns about the long-term impacts of COVID-19 on the teaching profession. Without the ability to train teachers on the best practice of remote learning, this expands the complication if the pandemic ultimately results in a prolonged closure of schools.
Generally, with evaluated challenges in education globally, other challenges that arise though unrelated with schools are a point of concern to the learners from vulnerable areas. These include;
Disparities and protection risks
Certain groups, such as children with disabilities and girls, have been identified as being particularly at risk. With the world struggling as a whole, it becomes impossible to monitor and control the environment the children find themselves in. In most communities, children have been expected to work and contribute to household income. This has led to instances of exploitation and abuse. School provided important school-based services such as school feeding and psychosocial support that at most mitigated against most exploitation. It is feared that the impact on girls could be devastating, with increased risks of early marriage, pregnancy, and gender-based violence. For these most vulnerable children, concerns were raised that even after the pandemic has ended, many may never return to the classroom.
Planning for the future
Crisis-sensitive planning measures, including those aimed at preparing for preventing, and mitigating crises have become of critical importance for post-pandemic recovery. This will be an evaluation of all that was implemented for best output and how to improve and work on them in case of a recurrence leading to the closure of schools in the future.
Recognizing this pandemic as an opportunity could help on strengthening emergency response and resilience hence strengthen emergency education response and resilience preparedness. Refugees and learners from vulnerable communities could benefit the most with efforts geared towards an improved crisis focused education system to overcome adversity and to rebound from crisis, and ensuring no one – regardless of the emergency – is forgotten.
By: Stephen Njine Njuguna
Stephen Njine is a Partnerships and Outreach director at Seasoned Development Solutions.