The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has said more than 127 million school children in eastern and southern Africa have remained at home due to the outbreak of COVID-19.
UNICEF said safe re-opening of schools remains key despite innovative approaches that have been taken for continued learning for more than 127 million pre-primary, primary and secondary school students who are supposed to return to school this week.
Mohamed M. Malick Fall, UNICEF regional director for eastern and southern Africa said governments, businesses and parents must come together to ensure inclusive, realistic and scalable ways that reach all children.
The United Nations (UN) agency also announced advanced support to this unprecedented education crisis, while advocating for the safe re-opening of schools that adhere to safety guidelines, noting that in most parts of the world, learning at home has been supported by online tools.
However, in eastern and southern Africa, it said internet penetration is constrained — barely one in five (22 per cent) of households have internet access, while 84 per cent of the rural population where the bulk of the learners reside have no electricity.
UNICEF said it has been working around the clock with partners to support continued learning through means such as radio, SMS and printed materials. “COVID-19 has triggered an education crisis that is unprecedented in scope, duration and impact,” said Fall.
The UN children’s agency said it has already, through partners, supported 21 governments with more than 5.4 million US dollars for remote learning and preparedness for school re-opening — with more finances in the pipeline.
However, even with the alternative learning measures being rolled out by governments, UNICEF and partners, tens of millions of children will not be reached, noting that those not reached are often the most marginalised and vulnerable children who largely rely on schools for their education, health, safety and nutrition.
“We learned many tough lessons from Ebola but one of the starkest was that after prolonged school closures, we see increases in child exploitation, in child abuse and even in teenage pregnancies; while it becomes harder for the most vulnerable children to return to school. These are the issues that must be at the forefront of the minds of decision-makers,” Fall said. -Xinhua