During an emergency, lifesaving needs like shelter, food, clean water and medical care are prioritized. However, with over 90 per cent of students out of school globally due to COVID-19, now more than ever, this crisis highlights the importance of education.
Parents in Canada are grappling with how to support children during school closures and children are trying their best to adjust. Recently, my sister told me how my niece’s grade four class connected with their teacher for a video call. She said how sad it was to hear the children expressing uncertainty about the current situation and their desire to return to school.
This did not surprise me, as it’s been the same in every emergency I’ve worked on. Children overwhelmingly want to return to school. Education is important not only because of the knowledge children learn, but also for the regular routine it provides – a psychosocial aspect of school that is often as important as the curriculum.
The Importance Of Education and Innovation
COVID-19 has created educational challenges, but also new solutions. As online learning rolls out here in Canada, digital technology is also being harnessed to help children learn around the world.
In Jordan, kindergarten teachers are supporting refugee and local children using WhatsApp. The teachers send lessons to parents through the app and parents send a photo of completed work back for review. It provides a connection and the structure parents and children need.
While digital technologies are imperfect, innovation is critical in emergencies and other educational techniques are being explored as well. For example, Plan International is supporting the Ministry of Education in Ghana to record and broadcast lessons on TV and the radio, helping reach children where online learning isn’t an option.
While maintaining education in a crisis can have substantial positive effects, the impacts on children who are not in school can be devastating – especially for children in developing countries, particularly girls.
The gendered impact of being out of school
Out-of-school girls in vulnerable communities face increased risks during an emergency. This includes sexual and gender-based violence, exploitation, and for some girls, once they leave school, they may never return. Girls can also bear a heavier burden of house and care work during a crisis, taking time away from studying and connecting with people outside their homes. This can be very isolating.
Parents may take desperate actions to survive, including marrying off young daughters, believing this will protect them. Girls and boys may be forced into harmful forms of child labour as incomes dwindle and hunger grows. Worse than that, girls may be exploited into the sex trade as a means to survive.
On the other hand, education can change a girl’s life. Studies show the more education a girl receives, the more likely she is to postpone marriage to later in life, have fewer children and earn a greater income.
Maintaining Education needs to be a priority
Education is every child’s right and a key pathway to gender equality. With record numbers of children out of school, including 743 million girls, education must continue as much as possible. Over 111 million of these girls live in the world’s least developed countries where getting an education is already a struggle, so we also need strategies to help children return to schools when they reopen.
As we navigate this crisis, we must prioritize education. If we do this, children from all countries and circumstances will not only survive the COVID-19 pandemic, they will come out of it strong, healthy and ready to pursue and achieve the many ambitions that await them. They deserve nothing less.
This is a guest post contributed by Jessica Capasso, Plan International Canada’s Director of Emergencies and Humanitarian Assistance.
Jessica has an in-depth background working in emergencies and humanitarian aid around the world. Prior to joining our team, she worked in Sudan, Ethiopia, Asia & the Middle East where she worked on programs supporting people impacted by the crises in Syria, Iraq, and Palestine.
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