Covid-19: West, Central Africa risk education collapse

As the world is facing education emergency due to education budget cuts coupled with the rising poverty caused by the novel coronavirus, popularly known as Covid-19, report released by Save the Children International on July 15, forecast that nearly 10 million children in 21 countries may never return to school after Covid-19. West and Central Africa are likely to be seriously affected with over 128 million children in the region being out-of-school due to the coronavirus as millions of children are still at home and unable to access any form of education be it formal or non-formal.

As the world is tending to achieve the global goals by 2030, the region also experiences students performing poorly in their academic lessons, a phenomenon that seriously crippled African education system and limited its students from scholarship opportunities.

Prior to Covid-19, the most recent data from UNESCO Institute of Statistics (UIS) shows that West and Central Africa constitutes significant 36% of the world’s out-of-school children. This has created serious problem on the growth and development of the African continent and affected agenda 2063 of the African Union (AU) that encapsulates a blueprint and master plan for transforming Africa into the global powerhouse of the future through emerging development and investment opportunities in areas such as health and well-being, quality education, infrastructural development, agri-business, etc.

Countries like Nigeria, in West Africa, are now facing existential threat as the country has the largest number of extremely poor people in the world with about 90 million, nearly half of the population of the country, live in extreme poverty, and one in every five of the world’s out-of-school children is in Nigeria, the country also has the highest number of out-of-school children (13.2 million) and four out of five persons aged 15-24 are unable to read a sentence or write, while only 61% of 6-11 year olds regularly attend primary school and only 35.6% of children aged 36-59 months received early childhood education. According to UNICEF, this has deeply caused a devastating social wreckage and uncertainty on a generation that was previously thought to champion the cause of more prosperous nation in attaining the defunct MDG-2 (Achieving Universal Primary Education) and now Goal 4 of the Sustainable Development Goal of the United Nations towards ensuring inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all which obtaining the set goals is the foundation for equitable and better education service delivery for all.

Covid-19 may manifest as crisis within crisis for students living in fragile and conflict-affected countries, even though children are not the face of the pandemic but they risk being among its biggest victims. To date, education response plans by government in conflict-affected countries have generally not addressed the needs of those leaving in conflict setting or of refugees. In Yemen, Libya, Lebanon, Afghanistan, and Syria, refugees are missing out on meals normally provided in schools and the non-governmental organization programs of supporting psychological wellbeing have largely paused. 

Furthermore, girls are now exposed to gender based violence, teen pregnancy during school closures, extremely in high risk of not going back to school, it is now the collective responsibility of the United Nations, Africa Union, government at all levels and the international donor agencies to promote an inclusive policy framework of enrolling children back to school after the lockdown, exploring the existing formula of enrollment drive campaign towards retention of children after the global pandemic.

As the pandemic continues ravaging all parts of the planet, countries like Nigeria need to consider how to mitigate the negative effects of keeping schools closed, particularly for the most vulnerable. The goal must be to help students learn, stay safe and be adequately fed, whilst keeping them and people around them safe from the virus. It is critical to consider what can be done now and in the future as education systems move towards recovery in order to ensure that most vulnerable are not left behind. Also, governments of West and Central Africa have to initiate collaborative social mobilization activities and programmes that will lead to awareness of the rights, privileges, roles and responsibilities of all stakeholders in the basic education sector.

Zanna Samaila is ONE Champion with ONE Campaign in Nigeria and also SDG-4 Global Talent with UNLEASH. He writes from Damaturu via 07031218350

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