Education

800 Million Children Across the World Still Not Fully Back in School

Schools remain closed or are only offering a mix of remote and in-person learning in at least 90 countries, according to UNICEF. This means that 800 million children across the world are still not fully back in classes, highlighting the need to reflect upon the educational costs of lockdowns. The Guardian has the story.

Across the world 800 million children are still not fully back in school, UNICEF is warning, with many at risk of never returning to the classroom the longer closures go on. There are at least 90 countries where schools are either closed or offering a mix of remote and in-person learning.

The UN agency’s chief of education, Robert Jenkins, told the Guardian that the closures are part of “unimaginable” disruption to children’s education.

“I didn’t imagine the scale of the closures when schools shut last year, and I didn’t imagine it going on for so long. In all our scenario planning for disruption, this possibility was never raised,” he says.

“At the peak of the pandemic 1.6 billion children were not in school and here we are, a year later, and 800 million are still suffering partially or fully disrupted education.

“There are a lot of lessons that need to be drawn, and one is the impact that prolonged school closures have on children.”

In Britain, the number of primary school leavers struggling with literacy has risen by 30,000 over the past year of lockdowns. The scale of the decline in basic reading skills is such that the Prime Minister is devising an “emergency” plan to boost educational support. But the picture in some other parts of the world is even bleaker, with children being forced into work or being married off.

A new Covid Global Education Recovery Tracker from UNICEF, the World Bank and Johns Hopkins University is monitoring closures across the world, analysing where children are learning at home or at school.

Humanitarian organisations say the closures have contributed to a range of increasing abuses and degradation of children’s rights across the world, from increasing use of child labour to a rise in child marriages, often in communities were children already struggled to access education. …

A Save the Children report out this week warns that in Lebanon children are being put into work by parents desperate for money. The charity fears many of the children will never return to school. Jennifer Moorehead, the charity’s Lebanon director, said: “We are already witnessing the tragic impact of this situation, with children working in supermarkets or in farms, and girls forced to get married.”

In Uganda, schools have been closed since March 2020, putting 15 million pupils out of education. Only certain classes with exams coming up have been allowed to return. The rest will return in a staggered way in the coming months, though thousands of girls will not, having become pregnant or been married off in the intervening period.

Worth reading in full.

Scotland’s Face Mask Hypocrisy

Scottish seniors returned to school today – or, at least, some of them did. Some are being fobbed off with “blended learning” which means they’re still stuck at home with Teams most of the time. But those lucky enough to actually return to school had to wear face masks in classrooms – and unlike in England, there were no ifs or buts. It’s mandatory, not voluntary (although many English secondary schools pretend it’s mandatory here, too). Julia Whitaker, a freelance Health Play Specialist, has written to UsForThem Scotland objecting to this and had kindly allowed us to reprint the letter in full.

The Scottish Government claims to recognise that “children’s rights and wellbeing matter now [in a pandemic] more than ever” and that “a children’s rights approach is being embedded into our response to COVID-19 and our approach to recovery and renewal”. This fits with the Government’s vision for Scotland to become the first country in the UK to directly incorporate the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) into domestic law – a vision which is embedded in the UNCRC (Incorporation) (Scotland) Bill currently going through Parliament. An admirable ambition and one to be celebrated.

However, it is this same UN Convention on the Rights of the Child that gives all children the right to freedom of expression (UNCRC Article 13), a right which is currently being denied by the imposition of a requirement to wear a face mask throughout the school day.

All children will not feel free to raise their hands to ask or answer questions if they know that their voice will be muffled or distorted and that they may have to repeat themselves more than once to make themselves understood. That is not freedom of expression.

All children will not feel free to actively engage with learning by sharing an opinion or participating in a discussion if their communication risks being missed or misinterpreted because they have to speak through a mask. That is not freedom of expression.

All children will not feel free to share their feelings, worries, or concerns if they cannot voice them confidently and openly. That is not freedom of expression.

Wearing a face mask may just make it too difficult, too risky, too awkward to be worth the effort trying to express oneself. It will be easier not to bother, to keep one’s mouth shut, one’s thoughts and feelings to oneself. That is not freedom of expression.

The Government already knows this. At the start of the academic session, Education Secretary John Swinney was quoted as saying that face coverings have negative effects on communication in schools and are “likely to interfere with teaching and learning”.

We may be two terms into the school year, but that fundamental truth remains. Wearing a face covering interferes with communication and self-expression which is why, when they enter the chamber at Holyrood, Government ministers remove their own face masks. I rest my case.

Either we are a country which embeds children’s rights in all decisions taken on their behalf. Or we are not.