With the current COVID-19 crisis unfolding, many of the 430 million children affected by school closures in South Asia are now in danger of dropping out of the education system, says UNICEF on Monday.
Even before the COVID-19 crisis, the region had a chronic education crisis with 95 million children of school age being out of school, it said.Bangladesh is using TV, radio, mobile phone and internet platforms to reach a maximum number of students and make the learning interactive, engaging parents and learners, according to UNICEF.
Vulnerable and hard to reach children may never return to school if they get further behind due to not being reached with alternative ways to learn during school closures.
Although COVID-19’s impact on the region’s school children has been mitigated in the short term by creative approaches to term breaks and examinations, countries across South Asia urgently need to develop plans for continued education at home to be prepared for possible longer closures, said UNICEF.
This means implementing plans to continue education through a mix of radio, television and mobile technology, as well as the home delivery of printed learning materials for those who are excluded from technology for the most vulnerable students.
“We are concerned that prolonged school closures could hit girls and the most vulnerable, including those with disabilities the hardest. Girls are often obliged to take care of household chores and look after siblings. We are also concerned about the psychological impact on children of increasing incidents of domestic violence during lockdowns,” said Jim Ackers, Regional Education Adviser at UNICEF’s Regional Office for South Asia.
While most countries in the global north are continuing education at home through online learning, South Asia faces additional challenges due to limited connectivity. Only 33% of the people in the region have access to the internet.Access to both radio and television is limited in some parts of the region.
For example, UNICEF said, only 43.9 % of households in rural Bangladesh have television at home.
Children who currently do home learning can also find it hard to get the necessary help if parents are illiterate or did not complete their own education.
It said they are working to support governments in the region to ensure that children can continue with their education at home in partnership with other agencies.
Most countries in South Asia have received external funding for this purpose, including through the Global Partnership for Education and bilateral partners. Some countries are rolling out innovative approaches to education.
“Both Afghanistan and Nepal have started organising the home delivery of learning materials to reach the most excluded,” explained Jim Ackers. Such measures are required to ensure quality learning.
“The coronavirus has turned into a complex emergency that threatens children and young people in many ways – including their right to learn,” said Jean Gough, Regional Director of UNICEF in South Asia.
“We need to see urgent action across the region to ensure that children’s futures are not compromised.”