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Educational, socio-economic gaps: Covid-a reminder

Shivam Pathak

The world is now recovering from the adverse effects of coronavirus, but its extreme consequences has a major impact on broadening the pre-existing educational gap and has shaken the education system to its core. It was during the first quarter of 2020 when governments started closing schools in an attempt to restrict covid and its casualties. This sector is considered to be the basis of future development for any country but has also exposed some serious inequalities across the globe.

The times when children in developed and developing countries were attending online classes or learning new skills with the help of Information Technology, there were regions with no electricity whatsoever. Forget about internet connectivity, there are countries where only one in five homes receives electricity. It appears quite surprising when world leaders talk about narrowing economic gap. It shows how committed they really are with their fancy speeches and talks on Television. But these are not the immediate effects of coronavirus, covid has just helped to bring this situation under light.

Source: UNESCO- Number of children affected by school closures globally

When the schools got closed, it affected around 1.6 billion learners in more than 190 countries and all continents. Closures of education institutions have impacted 94% of the world’s student population and up to 99% in low and lower-middle income countries. The crisis is exacerbating pre-existing education disparities by reducing the opportunities for many of the most vulnerable children, youth and adults- those living in poor or rural areas, girls, refugees, persons with disabilities and forcibly displaced persons-to continue their learning. Learning losses also threaten to extend beyond this generation and erase decades of progress, not least in support of girls and young women’s educational access and retention. Similarly, the education disruption has had, and will continue to have, substantial effects beyond education. This hampers the provision of essential services to children and communities, including access to nutritious food, affect the ability of many parents to work, and increase risks of violence against women and girls.

Before the pandemic too, the world was facing formidable challenges in fulfilling the promise of education as a basic human right. Despite the near universal enrolment at early grades in most countries, an extraordinary number of children-more than 250 million-were out of school and nearly 800 million adults were illiterate. This shows how much the word ‘globalization’ is true when it comes to make the education and technology sector efficient in under-developed and developing countries. This could be clearly understood from the data released by UN that- 86 per cent of children in primary education have been effectively out of school in countries with low human development as compared to just 20 per cent in countries with very high human development. It is also estimated that, there could be an increase by up to one-third in the pre-existing financial gap in low and lower-middle income countries. It clearly states the long-lasting impact these countries and nationals will have to bear due to covid.

Apart from educational concerns, parents who were completely depend on provisions such as mid-day meal or school ration to feed their children are worried much more as their income has reduced drastically. This also means an increase in hunger and nutritional deficiencies. Also, the disruptions caused by Covid-19 to everyday life meant that as many as 40 million children worldwide have missed out on early childhood education in their critical pre-school year. This will have serious implications on the future generation as they didn’t receive the basic and preliminary education.

Source: UNESCO Impact on education workforce remuneration and employment

There were high speculations and insecurities among teachers too. As the education shifted to online platforms, not all the teachers had availability of hardware or the required equipment. Furthermore, there was a lack of digital knowledge too which could be understood by the fact that- in sub-Saharan Africa, only 64 per cent of primary and 50 per cent of secondary teachers have received even minimum training, which often does not include basic digital skills. This adds up with the lack of IT structure in many countries which made it tough for institution heads to keep running schools and led to non-payment of salaries. So teachers were another faction hard hit by the pandemic.  Now also, when schools are opening up and teachers are required to provide face-to-face education, their physical health is put at risk.

But good news have started coming lately, mostly because the authorities got active with passing time and started acting on solutions. In areas with limited internet connectivity, governments have used more traditional distance learning modalities, often a mix of educational television and radio programming, and the distribution of print materials. The regions where offline education is put on roll, it is a big challenge for the authorities to maintain certain guidelines and reduce the covid risk. Lack of sanitation facilities could hamper such efforts.

As the human life is getting on track and world is getting back to its previous routine, covid has shown our ignorance in affairs of education and socio-economic inequality. It shows the awareness of our leaders, when it comes to these matters and the minimal efforts they are doing to reduce the gap. The unequal distribution of resources and a major unavailability of the same in poor and under-developed countries is constantly pulling us away from the sustainable goals.

But, there are organizations like UNICEF, UNESCO and WFP working constantly to reduce this gap by offering food, education and humanitarian aid in such countries. Leaders of these nations must provide requisite assistance to these institutions and instead of completely relying on them, should lay down a roadmap of their own. This involves attracting investment to the country by providing enough security to them. Investors are reluctant to put in their money in those regions due to continuous rebel, political imbalance and a lack of literacy. This makes education the utmost priority and with that only, governments can bring about a change.


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