The Covid-19 pandemic continues to be a global crisis impacting all factors of life. With cases increasing, the UK has entered its third national lockdown whereby schools, universities and colleges have officially closed for a second time.
But while the debate about whether schools should be open or closed continues in almost every country in the world, the disruption is having the biggest affect on those who already have limited access to education.
Despite the enormous toll institutional closure has on UK students, guardians and teachers alike, UK educational facilities have spent almost all of the previous12 months defining and implementing processes that mitigate the worst aspects of school closure. Systems are already in place that enable students to access online learning, as well as financial backing that provides such necessities as laptops for learning and care for the children of key workers.
But while it has been erroneously said, often by politicians, that Covid-19 is a great leveller, affecting those from all walks of life equally, this has been proven to be a fallacy time and again. In fact it is those that can least afford the various negative impacts of Covid-19 that are hit the hardest. This is true medically and socially; financially and mentally, and, of course, when it comes to educational opportunities. These truths are evident and they are global.
So, how has the pandemic affected those with fewer educational opportunities across the world?
The pandemic has caused over 1.6 billion children across 190 countries to be affected by school closures. In developing communities, school closures have led to further obstacles in meeting the Sustainable Development Goal of 'quality education for all'.
Prior to the pandemic, development towards education for all remained slow, and with 90% of all students out of school, the progress that had been made has come to a halt. The UN states that only 34% of students in the poorest 20% of households complete school. In comparison to a 79% completion rate in the richest 20% of households.
The wake of the pandemic has only stood in the way of these figures changing, and the pathway out of the cycle of poverty for many in developing areas has lengthened, with school closures making it that much harder to achieve financial stability, equality and overcome challenges like gender discrimination.
Students living in rural areas already had limited resources pre pandemic. For countless children, especially those living in areas of conflict, schools offer a place of safety and comfort, as well as being a place where they can access food and sanitation facilities. School closures therefore impact not just the education of young children, but also their very basic human rights.
For rural communities it is often costly to go to school. Covid-19 has made countries that depend on trade and tourism more vulnerable, not only in facing the virus but in being able to support their families. Having to pay for education, food, uniforms and transport for their children becomes more of a strain on guardians if they lose out on work due to various Covid related restrictions. The pandemic affects global economies, which in turn has an impact on smaller rural economies. Those losing out on gaining skills through quality education today will have a greater difficulty in contributing to economic growth in the long term.
With the introduction of remote learning as a result of developments such as BYJU's educational live classes based in Bangalore, and zoom classes in the UK, we have seen that education online can be a beneficial and efficient way of learning. However, it must be considered that not all communities have access to technology that enables them to study outside of the classroom. Rural communities in developing areas had limited resources even prior to the pandemic. The digital gap has certainly widened as a result of stay at home orders, and this must be addressed- *something CDV's Matilda Hazeal has explored in detail for the International Day of Education.*
Across the world, teachers, who often already act as unpaid councillors, social workers and medical professionals on top of their "day jobs", have been asked to play a role far greater than we should ever have expected of them, stretching their working days, designing and implementing health and safety processes to account for social distance regulations and even administering test and trace protocols.
The world's teachers have been thrown into the unknown, forced to formulate alternative methods of learning. While this has been challenging enough, for many the significance of teachers stretches far beyond academic education. Teachers are at the core of the community in rural areas, with many having close relationships with students and their families, they are relied upon and trusted in times of unrest and uncertainty. Teachers can inform community members on the correct protocol regarding the pandemic, reassuring students and their families as well as providing those who have suffered job losses with information on where to access support and provisions. The pandemic will hopefully allow us to understand the vital role teachers play not only as educators but as community leaders. The pandemic has highlighted that teachers should be employed not only based on their dedication to educate, but also should be hired locally as progressive and trusted representatives of their community, for example hiring female teachers in areas where girls' access to education is already restricted compared to their male counterparts.
The formation of NGO's in rural areas means that support can be provided by the people that know their communities best. This may be through social education by running awareness programmes that uphold empowerment and human rights, or more centred approaches to educating members on reproductive health and the challenges women face. For this work to be successful, financial backing and expertise is needed so that rural NGO's can equip their communities with exactly what they need to face challenges such as Covid-19.
As the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) indicates, education is a legal human right on the basis of equal opportunity. Access to education should certainly not be perceived as a luxury. Increased funding for education from international partners, as well as volunteerism should be encouraged, because education must continue to progress in communities in order to break the cycle of poverty.
On the question of education; governments, academic institutions and the public alike should be asking themselves what can be learned from the fallout of Covid-19, and what changes we can put in place to the varying international curriculums and systems that ensures future generations think critically about how they would like to see the world… but for this to happen, education needs to remain a stable and accessible constant for all.
CDV Global works with individuals and company volunteers to remotely create a plan that can be carried out once Covid-19 travel restrictions are lifted, so that crucial training can be delivered to NGO leaders in order to support vulnerable communities. Get in touch to find out how you or your company can help.