A year into the COVID-19 pandemic, children across the world have lost an average of 74 days of education each due to school closures and a lack of access to remote learning, Save the Children said today – more than a third of the standard global 190-day school year. In total, an estimated 112 billion days of education have been lost altogether, with the world’s poorest children disproportionately affected.

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112 billion days of education have been lost altogether, with the world’s poorest children disproportionately affected.

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Children from Latin America and South Asia Are particularly affected: they missed almost three times as much schooling as children in Western Europe - around 110 days.

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Lack of education as the start of a vicious circle Children who do not receive education are at higher risk of child labour, child marriages and other forms of abuse. Around 2.5 million girls are at risk of forced marriage.

Almost a year after the global pandemic was officially declared, hundreds of millions of children remain out of school. 2021 must be the year to ensure that children do not pay the price for this pandemic.

Inger Ashing CEO Save the Children International

A spike in school closures started in February 2020, and on March 11th the pandemic was declared, pushing 91 percent of the world’s learners out of school at its peak.

As schools closed and remote learning was not equally accessible for all children, the biggest education emergency in history widened the gap between countries and within countries, Save the Children said. The divide grew between wealthier and poorer families; urban and rural households; refugees or displaced children and host populations; children with disabilities and children without disabilities.

Jonathan*, 15, a Save the Children child rights campaigner in a refugee camp in Uganda, has like many children missed out on schooling over the past year. He is worried for his friends who he has seen drop out of school permanently due to school closures and end up working, pregnant or in early marriages. He said: “I feel bad when other children are not going to school. Because without education no one can get success. So, you find that if you do not go to school, it will be hard on your side. You will not understand, you will always be illiterate. So, you find that it’s very difficult.”

Jonathan's case:

Jonathan lives in Uganda and is campaigning for children to be able to go back to school.

The 15-year-old had to flee from South Sudan to Uganda, where he lives in a refugee camp. He actively encourages his friends to go to school.

In groups, he talks to children aged 13-17 about how important school is. Last year, he spoke to the Minister of Education on behalf of the children of Uganda and campaigned for schools to reopen.

Jonathan convinced his friend Peter to go back to school. Peter dropped out of school and worked. Now the friends can go back to school together and play football.

Jonathan helps Peter catch up on the material and encourages him to stay in school.

There have also been huge discrepancies in access to learning in wealthier nations during the pandemic, Save the Children said.

Students in the U.S. for example are more disconnected from the internet than students in other high-income countries, which likely also impacted their access to remote learning. Only two EU countries have lower levels of internet access than the U.S. – Bulgaria and Romania. At the start of the pandemic, upwards of 15 million students from kindergarten through to high school in U.S. public schools lacked adequate internet for distance learning at home.

Other wealthier countries also struggled to provide equal online alternatives for school-based learning. In Norway, while almost all youth between 9 and 18 years old has access to a smartphone, 30 percent did not have access to a PC at home. In the Netherlands, one in five children does not have a PC or tablet for home learning.

Governments and donors need to take immediate action to prevent an irreversible impact on the lives of millions of children who may never return to school, the agency warned.

Save the Children urged them to ensure that all children can return to school in a safe and inclusive way so the most marginalised children, including girls, are not robbed of a future by this pandemic. All children need to have access to catch up classes, so that children can make up for their lost learning, while recognising the huge emotional toll this crisis has taken.

With vaccines being rolled out, there is hope that we can win the battle against the virus, if all countries can access them. But we will lose the war against the pandemic if we do not ensure children get back to school safely, have access to health services, have enough to eat and are protected. We owe it to children to get this right.

Inger Ashing CEO Save the Children International

Besides losing out on learning, children out of school are exposed to a higher risk of child labour, child marriage and other forms of abuse, and are more likely to be trapped in a cycle of poverty for generations to come. The global pandemic is estimated to push an additional 2.5 million girls into child marriage by 2025.

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