Covid Pushes 670 Million Children Out Of School: UNICEF

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By James Muonwa

COVID-19 has resulted in the decline in the literacy rate across the world, with over 670 million learners in 47 countries out of school two years after the first case was detected, the United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund (Unicef) says in its latest report.

The UN agency said children were spending too much time idle due to lockdowns, which has resulted in the literacy rate plummeting.

The report titled, “Are Children Learning: Exploring Foundational Learning ln The Midst Of A Learning Crisis” reveals that as the Covid-19 pandemic enters its third year, 670 million schoolchildren in 47 countries are yet to fully open schools, with many schoolchildren at risk of dropping out.

“The Covid-19 pandemic came at a time when the world was already grappling with a serious learning crisis in which many children were not mastering the fundamentals of reading and numeracy even when attending school,” the report reads.

“With widespread school closures and other disruptions to the education system brought about by the pandemic, the learning crisis has escalated. While the number of out-of-schoolchildren had already started to climb for the first time in 20 years in 2020, by all accounts the increase has begun accelerating,” it reads.

Learners, the report says, need to grasp elementary reading and maths concepts if the downward trend in literacy is to be reversed.

“Children have to get back to the classroom, but changes are needed to ensure that they really learn, starting with the foundational basics of reading and numeracy. Improvements in teacher training, greater investment in teaching resources, and a focus on foundational skills will help turn the tide and set children on a path to educational growth and discovery.”

The also report gives insight into the extent of the learning crisis by providing an in-depth picture of which children are expected to have acquired foundational reading and numeracy skills at the end of Grade Two. This includes ability to read and interpret a simple passage and identify and distinguish between different numbers.

But in most countries analysed, the majority of children have not mastered foundational skills in either reading or numeracy by the time they reach Grade Three.

The percentage of Zimbabwean pupils attending Grade Three with satisfactory reading and arithmetic skills is 28 and 9%, respectively.

In more than half the countries, only 30% of children have foundational reading skills while an average 15% grasp numbers.

“By all accounts, the Covid-19 pandemic is taking an exacting toll on children, as is evidenced by an increase in child poverty, child hunger, child labour, forced early marriage, and out-of-school rates,” Unicef reported

The report covers 32 countries and territories, which include Bangladesh, Belarus, Central African Republic, Chad, Togo, Tunisia, Lesotho, Ghana, Zimbabwe, among others.