Save the Children fears for the future of millions of children, as more than 120,000,0001 children and students are currently out of school in in West and Central Africa. Almost all countries have introduced nation-wide school and university closures so far to contain the Covid-19 virus - the number is expected to rise as the virus looks set to spread further.
While the focus of the COVID 19 response is mainly on health systems, the pandemic is already having a devastating impact on children beyond that. In an attempt to maintain the COVID 19 pandemic, governments are closing schools across the world. This situation could further worsen the vulnerabilities of marginalized children within West and Central Africa and especially in the Sahel, says Save the Children.
"It is a hard time with this sudden school closure. It's the worst holidays I've ever had because we're in lockdown. We can't study and I'm worrying about the virus. I don't know when the school will open. I don't know if we will finish school. I don't know if the virus is going to make a tragedy in our country. I'm really scared. I miss my classes, friends and school in a word. The more the days go by, the more cases there are and at this speed, the school is not about to open." Awa٭ a student in Bamako, Mali.
With COVID-19 pushing governments to confine populations and close schools, Save the children is concerned about the limited mechanisms in place to ensure children can follow an education from their homes. With their education interrupted and not being in a safe place such as a school, children are at a higher risk of abuse, neglect, violence and exploitation, and they, especially girls are more likely of dropping out of school completely.
While some countries are better prepared to provide 'learning at a distance' for children during school closures, the most marginalised girls and boys living in rural areas or the suburb of the main cities will struggle to access distance learning. This includes children from low-income households, those with disabilities and children already affected by conflict and humanitarian crises.
National education systems in, DRC, Burkina, Mali, Niger or Northern Nigeria already face considerable challenges as a result of the on-going conflict and displacement and a critical lack of funding. COVID-19 exacerbates these already dire challenges.
"Education needs to be integrated in the current response of the COVID-19 outbreak, as the future of millions of children is at stake. The disease may disappear over time, but children will continue to suffer the consequences for the rest of their lives", said Philippe Adapoe, Regional Director for Save the Children West and Central Africa region.
"Managing the health crisis and containing the virus must be a priority of course, but so is ensuring that children can continue their education from home. So far, limited opportunities have been put into place to ensure the continuity of education for children at home. This is a challenge that governments will have to respond to, with the help of the international community. If we relegate this continuity of education to the background, many children, especially girls may drop out of school all together. The Ebola outbreaks, even if it is a different epidemic, should be a lesson for us" he concluded.
Save the Children calls on governments and international community to ensure that:
Measures are in place to mitigate the impact of school closing down. In Africa, where millions don't have access to internet, tools such as radio programs and TV programs can help children access alternative education. It is vital that governments support teachers and equip them with the skills to provide quality distance learning.
Appropriate care and specific support is available for children, along with distance learning, as school closures will hit the most marginalized children hardest.
Needed measures will be put in place to mitigate the risks for children with the impact of school closures extends beyond disruption to education. Many rely on school meals to support their daily nutrition. In addition, children who are out of school are also at greater risk of being recruited into labour, abuse and exploitation,
Pay particular attention to the girls, who are more likely to will face a disproportionately larger burden for caring for family members who contract the virus and taking care of younger children and be at risk of negative family coping mechanisms like child marriage. More governments need to put mechanisms in place to protect vulnerable girls, following the recent decision of Sierra Leone Gvt to lift the ban affecting pregnant girls from attending school.
٭ Name has been changed