As children in the global north head back to school, teachers across Asia, Africa and Latin America say many girls in their classes are struggling to return due to increases in early marriage, pregnancy and unpaid care work during Covid-19 lockdowns.
ActionAid surveyed 130 teachers from 14 countries* who work in communities where livelihoods have been lost during the pandemic and where girls are being hardest hit by school closures. Teachers said most of their schools have been closed since March and only those in Ghana and Somaliland have fully reopened.
The survey provides a snapshot of teachers’ concerns for a generation of school children:
- Around three in five teachers surveyed say a higher drop-out rate for girls (59%) and poorer children (62%) will be a long-term impact of the pandemic.
- Nearly half are concerned about increases in early pregnancy (41%) and early marriage (45%) due to the Covid-19 crisis. Over a third (35%) are worried about rising hunger.
- Teachers say some of the biggest issues preventing girls from returning to school are parents unable to afford the cost (62%), unpaid care work (59%), child labour (51%) and early marriage (52%).
- Most schools (81%) made some provision for distance learning, but 76% of teachers said that less than half of their pupils were able to keep up with their lessons.
Husein Goohe, a headteacher at a school in Gabiley district, Somaliland, said just 13 pupils – all of them boys – returned to his school after it reopened in July, down from 119 before Covid-19. He said all 50 girls at the school were unable to return, mainly due to early marriage affecting children as young as 12.
“I felt desperate when I saw the majority of the pupils not returning to school to continue their learning and invest in the future of the community,” he says. “The future of the children will be darker. I fear they will work in casual labour as their parents do and will struggle to survive.”
In a community dependent on agriculture hit by a devastating desert locust infestation and small business owners bankrupted by lockdown, he says: “The parents prefer girls to stay at home and do domestic work.” He adds that early marriage is the issue most affecting girls during the Covid-19 crisis and female genital mutilation has also increased.
David Archer, Head of Public Services at ActionAid, says: “Education can act as a powerful equalising force. But the Covid-19 crisis risks deepening existing inequalities by preventing more girls, disabled children and pupils from poorer backgrounds from completing their studies.
“Our survey provides a snapshot of teachers’ fears for a generation’s future, as the poorest and most marginalised children are hardest hit by school closures and the economic impacts of coronavirus.
“But declining progress on global education goals isn’t inevitable. Building back better after Covid-19, means actively addressing the barriers facing girls and disabled children, and allocating budget to addressing inequalities in education.”
ActionAid’s Call to Action on sustainable financing for education post-Covid, supported by 190 organisations, including Save the Children, Oxfam and the Malala Fund, sets out 10 steps to transform education and to make the pandemic a turning point to increase equality and inclusion.
Urgent debt relief is essential to enable governments to immediately invest in health and education. Currently, countries featured in the survey, including Bangladesh and Mozambique, are spending far more on external debt servicing than they are on health, Kenya is spending three times as much. Malawi spends 80% of its combined health and education budget on debt repayments.
Developing countries are due to pay back almost $1 trillion in debt service in 2020-21. G20 leaders, international financial institutions, like the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF), and private sector lenders must commit now to extend a moratorium on debt payments to all developing countries in need, at least through to the end of 2022. Longer term, the system for debt restructuring must be reformed so that no country is spending more on debt servicing than on education or health.
In the longer term, ActionAid is calling for simple but bold action on progressive tax reform.
Billions could be raised for investment in essential public services, including education, through setting new global rules to ensure companies, including tech giants and polluters, pay their fair share, raising taxes on excess profits and wealth, ending harmful tax incentives (through which developing countries lose $138 billion a year), preventing corporate tax abuse (through which developing countries lose at least $200 billion a year) and stopping other illicit financial flows.
Notes to editors:
*In August 2020, ActionAid surveyed 130 teachers working in 82 schools in Bangladesh, Brazil, Cambodia, Ethiopia, Ghana, India, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Nepal, Nigeria, Rwanda, Somaliland and Zimbabwe.
Read the full analysis of the survey:
Read ActionAid’s 10-point Call To Action on sustainable financing for education post-Covid:
ActionAid’s Who Cares report and Global South Action Plan briefing show the countries where spending on debt servicing is far outstripping spending on public services https://actionaid.org/publications/2020/global-south-action-plan-protecting-lives-and-livelihoods-covid-19