Ongoing pandemic pushes Africa’s children out of school – global problems

Quality, safe, gender-relevant and inclusive education for Africa’s children is increasingly out of reach, experts say. Credit: Joyce Chimbi / IPS
  • by Joyce Chimbi (nairobi)
  • Inter Press Service

Sarah Kitana, a high school teacher in Kathiani, Machokos County, tells IPS that fewer students are in the classroom after a year of COVID-19-driven disruption and the subsequent extended period outside of school. This is even more evident in rural areas.

“Those who return have a very hard time coping with the new rapid learning to make up for lost time. High school students take eight to 13 subjects. Some schools have their students who wake up at 3:00 to be in class at 4:30 and finish. the day at 22.45, ”she says.

“These are efforts to help bring some normality to a disrupted, restructured and shortened academic calendar. It will take up to January 2023 for Kenya’s school calendar to regain some normality.”

Africa before COVID-19 and beyond, sub-Saharan Africa was already off track to achieve Sustainable Development Goal 4 to “ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.”

In 2019, UNESCO’s Institute for Statistics indicated that of all regions, sub-Saharan Africa has the highest degree of exclusion from education, as over one-fifth of children between the ages of six and 11, one-third of 12- to 14-year-olds and 60 percent of those aged 15 to 17 did not go to school.

In July 2021, UNICEF announced that at least 40 percent of all school-age children in Eastern and Southern Africa were out of school due to COVID-19 and other pre-pandemic challenges facing the persistently fragile education system.

UN data show that there are at least 15 countries with active armed conflict in sub-Saharan Africa. Civil war, young girls’ pregnancies, child marriages, accessibility challenges due to disability, climate change induced displacement, COVID-19 economic shocks will only increase the number of out of school, says Josephat Kimathi, an educator at Kenya’s Ministry of Education.

Missing education can have lifelong consequences. Save the Children’s forecasts for July 2020 suggested that children, at that time outside of school due to pandemic-driven school closures, could lose $ 10 trillion in earnings.

In 16 out of Kenya’s 47 counties, a basic survey conducted by UNICEF found that more than 27,500 children with disabilities dropped out of school.

Not only has an entire generation of education disrupted the history of mankind, Kimathi says that quality, safe, gender-relevant and inclusive education for Africa’s children is increasingly out of reach.

“By comparison, Kenya is a fairly stable country. But the fact that 1.8 million children and young people aged six to 17 are out of school. Another 700,000 young children aged four to five cannot access interactive opportunities for early childhood to prepare them for primary school, says a lot about less stable nations, ”Kimathi told IPS.

Every fourth child in Africa lives in conflict areas. A new analysis conducted by Save the Children in 12 countries at extreme risk of increased school dropout shows that apart from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen, the rest are African countries, including Cote d’Ivoire, Guinea, Liberia, Mali, Chad, Niger, Mauritania, Nigeria and Senegal.

Across Africa, Kimathi says, the poorest children in rural areas, drought-stricken, minority communities and marginalized communities will suffer the most from the devastating effects of the pandemic.

Grace Gakii, a Nairobi-based gender expert, says the pandemic is already pushing even more girls out of Africa’s education system. At least one million girls in Africa may never return to school, according to a 2021 report by the Mo Ibrahim Foundation.

Pre-COVID, nine million girls between the ages of six and 11, compared to six million boys of the same age living in sub-Saharan Africa, will never go to school, according to UNESCO.

Gakii talks about escalating challenges in arid, semi-arid and pastoral communities of enrolling and retaining girls in school and fears losing gains gained.

Elangata Enterit boarding school in Kenya’s pastoralist community Narok South is a perfect example of success. In 2007, the school did not have a single girl to attend the crucial and compulsory Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE).

With intervention, the number of girls sitting for KCPE increased to 30 students in 2016 and continues to grow.

Despite 42 countries in Africa offering free and compulsory primary education and African Union member states striving to invest at least 20 percent of their domestic budget in education before COVID-19, UNESCO data show that 100 million children were out of school in sub – Africa in the Sahara.

In July 2020, Save the Children estimated that the pandemic-driven recession will leave a $ 77 billion deficit in education spending in some of the poorest countries in the world over the next 18 months.

Kimathi says Africa will need context-specific education plans to help build resilience to shocks to an already weak education system to get back on track. It must also have the money to implement the action plans. Finally, it will require proactive measures to keep children safe and systems to track and ensure that the continent stays the course.

He praised Kenya’s efforts to speed up the implementation of the right to education for all children.

This includes the ongoing “Operation Come to School” program targeting 16 rural areas notorious for out-of-school children.

This, he says, is crucial to achieving SDG 4, especially in light of gloomy predictions from UNESCO, which estimates that 50 percent of children in sub-Saharan Africa will not complete upper secondary education by 2030.


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© Inter Press Service (2021) – All rights reservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service

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