More than 127 million pre-primary, primary and secondary school pupils in eastern and southern Africa – who are supposed to return to school this week – remain at home due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
In response, the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) has announced advanced support during this unprecedented education crisis, while advocating for the safe reopening of schools that adhere to safety guidance.
According to Unicef, in most parts of the world, learning at home has been supported by online tools.
“However, in eastern and southern Africa, internet penetration is constrained – barely one in five (22%) of households have internet access, while 84% of the rural population, where the bulk of the learners reside, have no electricity.
“Consequently, Unicef has been working around the clock with partners to support continued learning through means such as radio, SMS and printed materials,” the UN agency said in a statement.
Unicef has already, through partners, supported 21 governments with more than R101 million for remote learning and preparedness for school reopening – with more finances in the pipeline.
Tens of millions not reached
However, even with the alternative learning measures being rolled out by governments, Unicef and its partners, tens of millions of children will not be reached.
Radio, for example, reaches about 53 million children, or four in 10 of those across eastern and southern Africa. Those not reached are often the most marginalised and vulnerable children, who largely rely on schools for their education, health, safety and nutrition.
“Indeed, the secondary effects of Covid-19 and school closures are grim: across eastern and southern Africa, up to 16 million children are no longer accessing critical daily meals at school; and violence is increasing.”
In March, a staggering 3 000 more calls were made to Childline, the free counselling helpline in South Africa, than 12 months earlier.
“Covid-19 has triggered an education crisis that is unprecedented in scope, duration and impact,” said Unicef regional director for eastern and southern Africa, Mohamed M Malick Fall.
“Governments, business and parents must come together to ensure inclusive, realistic and scalable ways that reach all children. This has started, but every day that passes is another where children – and their communities – are robbed of a fundamental right.”
New technical guide
To this end, Unicef welcomes a new technical guidance, Framework for Reopening Schools, which provides a road map for the safe reopening of schools, and was co-authored by the World Food Programme, World Bank, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) and Unicef.
“We learnt many tough lessons from Ebola,” said Fall, “but one of the most stark 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.”
Read the framework here: