Press release: Save the Children and Civil Society Education Coalition warn of a looming education crisis amidst COVID-19
The COVID-19 pandemic has, by far, created the largest education disruption in history and continues to pose threats as it unfolds. The Government of Malawi has, as in many countries, closed schools for three weeks with immediate effect as one measure of controlling the spread of COVID-19. save
Whilst closure of schools for the next three weeks is a necessary public health measure in the face of the steep rise in cases of COVID-19 in Malawi, further steps need to be taken. Civil Society Education Coalition (CSEC) and Save the Children see this closure as an opportunity for the government, development partners and all stakeholders to rigorously assess and analyze capacity gaps, and collectively prepare for schools to reopen when directed by the Government of Malawi, with all full COVID-19 preventative measures put in place.
At the same time, all stakeholders should work together to ensure that whilst schools are closed, the most vulnerable/at risk children are afforded care and protection and that all children are supported at home, in the community, by schools and others to access continued learning and support.
CSEC and Save the Children understand that pro-longed school closure will have long-term socioeconomic impacts and should only be considered after all other alternatives have been explored. Disruption to children’s learning threatens the future of a generation and increases the risk of children dropping out completely, creating a future dependency burden with as dire consequences as the pandemic today.
Recently, United Nations Secretary General António Guterres called this unprecedented education crisis looming over millions of learners a “generational catastrophe.”
He observes: “Now we face a generational catastrophe that could waste untold human potential, undermine decades of progress, and exacerbate entrenched inequalities. The knock-on effects on child nutrition, child marriage and gender equality, among others, are deeply concerning.”
Keeping children out of school has shown to have widespread consequences especially to girls. Girls are at greater risk of teenage pregnancy and sexual and gender-based violence if they stay out of school. In 2020, the Malawi government-led COVID-19 rapid assessment on teenage pregnancies and child marriages showed an 11% increase in teenage pregnancies in the period of March to July 2020 compared to the same period in 2019.
While efforts to continue delivering lessons by radio and online have been made before, many children are still not being reached, further widening inequalities. In view of this, Government and other partners should ensure that there are adequate support measures to address these inequalities so that even children in remote and hard to reach areas have access to distance learning facilities such as radio programs.
Benedicto Kondowe, CSEC Executive Director notes: “The right to education is real and undiminished also in times of emergency, even if the ways in which this right is ensured may require adaptation. While access to education is in itself important, the true value of this right can only be realized if education is equitable, inclusive and of adequate quality.”
Kim Koch, Save the Children Malawi Country Director observes: “When schools close, it will be the vulnerable children with disabilities, poor children, and girls that are most likely to suffer the loss of learning and to never return to school. We must redouble our efforts to reach all children with learning opportunities now and make sure that every child returns to school in the future.”
CSEC and Save the Children further urge government to ensure that education financing is ring-fenced, as the pandemic stretches priorities, and is used to strengthen the education system and support continued learning.
CSEC and Save the Children believe Malawi and the rest of the world cannot afford a pro-longed school closure. Every effort should be wielded from all key stakeholders to support children at this time. This requires every individual to take responsibility to diligently follow government protocols to curb the spread of this disease
For Media Enquiries:
Media and Communications Associate – CSEC, Malawi
Campaigns and Communications Manager – Save the Children, Malawi