With 23 countries yet to fully reopen their schools, education risks becoming the ‘greatest divider’ as the COVID-19 pandemic enters its third year

NEW YORK, March 30, 2022 – As the COVID-19 pandemic enters its third year, 23 countries – home to around 405 million school children – have yet to fully open their schools, and many school children are at risk of dropping out, according to a new report from UNICEF released today.

Do children really learn? presents national data on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and related school closures on children, as well as an up-to-date analysis of the state of children’s learning before the pandemic. He points out that 147 million children have missed more than half of their in-person schooling in the past 2 years. That’s 2 trillion hours of in-person learning lost worldwide.

“When children are unable to interact directly with their teachers and peers, their learning suffers. When they are unable to interact with their teachers and peers at all, their learning loss can become permanent,” said UNICEF Executive Director Catherine Russell. “This growing inequality in access to learning means that education risks becoming the greatest divider, not the greatest equalizer. When the world fails to educate its children, we all suffer.

Along with data on learning loss, the report highlights new evidence that shows many children did not return to school when their classrooms reopened. Data from Liberia shows that 43% of public school students did not return when schools reopened in December 2020. The number of out-of-school children in South Africa tripled from 250,000 to 750,000 between March 2020 and July 2021. In Uganda, about 1 in 10 schoolchildren did not return to school in January 2022 after schools were closed for two years. In Malawi, the dropout rate for girls in secondary education increased by 48%, from 6.4% to 9.5% between 2020 and 2021. In Kenya, a survey of 4,000 adolescent girls aged 10 to 19 revealed that 16% of girls and 8% of boys did not return when schools reopened.

Out-of-school children are among the most vulnerable and marginalized children in society. They are the least likely to be able to read, write or do basic math, and are cut off from the safety net provided by schools, putting them at increased risk of exploitation and a life of poverty and deprivation.

The report highlights that while out-of-school children suffer the greatest losses, pre-pandemic data from 32 countries and territories show a desperately low level of learning, a situation that has likely been exacerbated by the scale of learning lost. because of the pandemic. In the countries analysed, the current pace of learning is so slow that it would take most schoolchildren seven years to acquire the basic reading skills that should have been acquired in two years, and 11 years to acquire the skills of basis in calculation.

In many cases, there is no guarantee that school children have learned the basics. In the 32 countries and territories surveyed, a quarter of grade 8 students – aged around 14 – lacked basic reading skills and more than half lacked the numeracy skills expected of a 2nd grade student, about 7 years old.

“Even before the pandemic, the most marginalized children were being left behind. As the pandemic enters its third year, we cannot afford to return to “normal”. We need a new normal: bringing children into classrooms, assessing where they are in their learning, providing them with the intensive support they need to recover what they have missed, and ensuring that teachers have the training and learning resources they need. The stakes are too high to do less,” Russell said.


Notes to editors:

Sources: UIS, Uganda National Examinations Committee study (2021)

Out-of-school children are defined as children of primary and secondary school age who are not in school. This is different from schoolchildren whose schools remain partially or fully closed due to COVID-19 restrictions.

Helen D. Jessen