“We have one computer in the family. Both my wife and I are working from home, so we need it. Now both children have classes, so they need to be on the computer. Two children with classes at the same time, so actually we need two computers. We are taking salary cuts, how can we afford to buy another laptop? So, one child is missing class,” a father in Mumbai, India, who has two children said.
This is not a single incident but the plight of families in most of the countries as reported by the Human Rights Watch (HRW) in its latest report on increased inequality in right to education during Covid times.
In the report, “‘Years Don’t Wait for Them’: Increased Inequalities in Children’s Right to Education Due to the Covid-19 Pandemic,” the HRW details about how Covid related school closures affected children unequally, as not all children had the opportunities, tools, or access needed to keep on learning during the pandemic. The report says that heavy reliance on online learning only increased the existing unequal distribution of support for education. It pointed out that several countries did not have policies, infrastructure or resources to roll out online learning so that everyone was covered.
HRW Senior Education Researcher Elin Martinez https://www.hrw.org/about/people/elin-martinezstated that it was time to strengthen the protection of right to education by rebuilding better and more equitable and robust education systems. She said that it was not just returning to how things were before the pandemic. The flaws in the system need fixed that have long prevented schools from being open and welcoming to all children.
The Human Rights Watch brought out the Years Don’t Wait for Them’: Increased Inequalities in Children’s Right to Education Due to the Covid-19 Pandemic” report after interviewing more than 470 students, parents, and teachers in 60 countries between April 2020 and April 2021.
As per UNESCO records, Covid pandemic disrupted education of about 90 per cent of the children. The HRW said that schools in 26 countries were completely closed country wide. In 55 countries, schools were only partially open – either just in some locations or only for some grade levels .
The school closures may not be a temporary interference with their education but the abrupt end of it, HRW said. The report pointed out that children have started working and even married off. Many of them became disillusioned with education. The HRW said that these children cannot catch up or may be aged-out of free and compulsory education guaranteed in a country.
The HRW says that the children who have returned and who will come back will have much backlog and face consequences of lost learning.
The HRW found that most of the schools entered the Covid 19 pandemic ill prepared to deliver remote education to all students equally. They note that this was because of the governments’ failure to remedy discrimination and inequalities in their education systems. They were also not able to ensure basic government services such as affordable, reliable electricity in homes, or facilitate affordable internet access.
The “Years Don’t Wait for Them’: Increased Inequalities in Children’s Right to Education Due to the Covid-19 Pandemic” report analyses that Children from low-income families were more likely to be excluded from online learning. This was mainly because these children could not afford sufficient internet or devices. Moreover, education systems in many of the countries also failed to provide digital literacy training for students and teachers.
Stating that education should be at the core of all governments’ recovery plans, the HRW said that the governments should address the impact of Covid 19 pandemic on children’s education and the pre-existing problems. They also wanted the government’s protect and prioritise funding for public education.
The HRW said that the countries should do intensive outreach to ensure that children most at-risk of dropping out or facing barriers, return to school. Everyone should analyze who left school and who came back and ensure that back-to-school programs seek out all of those who dropped out. They said that outreach for back-to-school campaigns should be broad, and welcome children and youth who were already out of education when schools had to close.
The report suggests that all governments, donors and international actors should try to strengthen public education systems.
Martinez also maintained;“just reopening schools will not undo the damage, nor even ensure that all children will return to school. Governments should finally rise to the challenge and urgently make education free and available for every child around the world.”