The right to education is enshrined in Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. However, around 635 million students worldwide are still affected by COVID-19-related school closures.
The United Nations Children's Fund, UNICEF, speaks of an almost irretrievable loss of schooling for the children affected as they have lost basic arithmetic and reading skills. Globally, the disruption to education has caused millions of children to miss out on the academic learning they would have gained had they been in the classroom, with younger and marginalized children suffering the greatest loss. In low- and middle-income countries, learning losses due to school closures have left up to 70 percent of 10-year-olds unable to read or understand a simple text, up from 53 percent before the pandemic.
In Ethiopia, it is estimated that elementary school children have learned between 30 and 40 percent of the math they would have learned in a normal school year. In South Africa, schoolchildren lag behind by between 75 percent and a full school year. A total of around 400,000 to 500,000 students in South Africa reportedly dropped out of school between March 2020 and July 2021.
The consequences of school closures are increasing. In addition to the loss of learning, school closures have impacted children's mental health, restricted their access to a regular food source, and increased their risk of abuse. In addition, there are increasing signs that COVID19 has caused a high rate of anxiety and depression in children and adolescents. Some studies show that girls, adolescents, and people living in rural areas are most likely to be affected. More than 370 million children worldwide also missed school meals during school closures, often losing the only reliable meal of the day.
While learning interruptions must be ended as soon as possible, it is not enough just to reopen schools. Pupils need intensive support to regain lost education.
© UNICEF Malawi/2021/Chagara