Ten million children 'may never return to school' after coronavirus
Charity urges governments and donors to invest more in new global education plan to help pupils back to school when safe
The Covid-19 pandemic has caused the biggest global education crisis of our lifetime, with nearly 10 million children at risk of never going back to class, a leading charity warned on Monday.
Save the Children quoted Unesco data showing that in April, 1.6 billion young people were shut out of school and university because of social measures – about 90 per cent of the world's student population.
"For the first time in human history, an entire generation of children globally have had their education disrupted," Save the Children said in a new report, Save our Education.
The British charity warned the economic fallout of the crisis could force an extra 90 million to 117 million children into poverty, with a knock-on effect on school admissions.
With many young people required to work or girls forced into early marriage to support their families, this could mean between seven and 9.7 million children drop out of school permanently.
The charity said the pandemic could leave a $77 billion (Dh282.82bn) shortfall in education budgets in low and middle-income countries by the end of 2021.
"About 10 million children may never return to school," said its chief executive, Inger Ashing.
"This is an unprecedented education emergency and governments must urgently invest in learning.
"Instead we are at risk of unparalleled budget cuts, which will see existing inequality explode between the rich and the poor, and between boys and girls."
Save the Children urged governments and donors to invest more funds in a new global education plan to help children back into school when it is safe, and until then support distance-learning.
It also called for children to continue to learn while schools are closed, through inclusion in distance-learning.
In response to school closures, Unesco has recommended the use of distance-learning programmes and open educational applications and platforms that schools and teachers can use to reach learners remotely and limit disruption of education.
The charity also urged commercial creditors to suspend debt repayments for low-income countries, which it said could free up $14bn for education.
"If we allow this education crisis to unfold, the impact on children's futures will be long lasting," Ms Ashing said.
"The promise the world has made to ensure all children have access to a quality education by 2030, will be set back by years."
She was referring to one of the UN's sustainable development goals.
The report said Niger, Mali, Chad, Liberia, Afghanistan, Guinea, Mauritania, Yemen, Nigeria, Pakistan, Senegal and Ivory Coast were the countries most at risk of mass school attrition.
“Children who live in low-income countries, in refugee camps and war zones may never return to school – especially girls," the report said.
"Each day that passes, they grow more vulnerable to hunger, violence, child labour or child marriage. Their future hangs in the balance.
“Schools not only provide children with a space to learn. For many children school is also a safe place where they can receive meals, access health care including mental health services, and play with their friends.
"Teachers can be children’s front-line responders and protectors.
"But with school closures, children are missing out on these essentials the school environment can offer."
Before the crisis, an estimated 258 million children and adolescents were already missing out on school, the charity said.
Updated: July 13, 2020 11:17 AM