Covid-19 deepens the educational divide

There are an estimated 258-million children, adolescents and youth not in school across the globe. Sub-Saharan Africa accounts for 31% of them.

That number is contained in the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) 2020 Global Education Monitoring Report that was released this week.

The report, titled “Inclusion and Education: All means All”, said that, all over the world, children face different forms of discrimination that hinder them from accessing education. The report noted gender identity, sexual orientation, wealth, displacement and attitudes as some of the barriers to accessing education.

In sub-Saharan Africa, for example, in countries such as Zimbabwe and Zambia, teachers may fear teaching children with albinism based on the myths surrounding people living with the condition.

The Unesco report notes that in Gulf countries, stateless children and youth are prohibited from enrolling in public-education institutions, and that Rohingya in Myanmar, who are internally displaced, or refugees have had no access to formal public schools. In Europe, Roma children are likely to be placed in special schools. In Latin America, learners do not learn the history of African descendants; if they do, it is a misrepresented version.


The report also found that, globally, 42% of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex learners said they were ridiculed, insulted and threatened at school by their peers because of their sexual orientation.

“About 37% reported feeling rarely or never safe at school, with the highest prevalence in the Arab States and sub-Saharan Africa,” the report said.

The report said Covid-19 has added new layers of exclusion, and that responses to the virus had not paid attention to including all learners. “About 40% of low- and lower-middle-income countries have not supported learners at risk of exclusion, such as the poor, linguistic minorities and learners with disabilities.”

With the closure of schools, learning has moved to online platforms across the world, but the report said only 12% of households in the least-developed countries have internet access at home, which means learners in these households have lost out.

Other mediums that have been used for teaching and learning include lessons broadcast on radio but, according to the report, in Ethiopia only 7% of households own a radio; the figure is 8% in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

In her foreword, Unesco director general Audrey Azoulay said the Covid-19 pandemic has deepened societal inequalities that are a barrier to quality education.

“The current crisis will further perpetuate these differences in forms of exclusion. With more than 90% of the global student population affected by Covid-19 related school closures, the world is in the throes of the most unprecedented disruption in the history of education,” she said.

“Social and digital divides have put the most disadvantaged at risk of learning losses and dropping out. Lessons from the past — such as with Ebola — have shown that the health crises can leave many behind, in particular the poorest girls, many of whom may never return to school.”

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Bongekile Macupe
Bongekile Macupe is an education reporter at the Mail & Guardian.

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