Covid -19’s Impact on Girl’s education across the Commonwealth
Updated: Mar 29
There is no doubt that Covid-19 has had a substantial impact on us all. The pandemic has affected far more people than those who have contracted the virus, and it is clear that the social challenges and economic uncertainty will be with us for some time to come. This is also true of girls’ education as schools around the world closed. However, research papers show that there are a number of other concerns that affect girls’ education and even more so, their overall wellbeing. Whilst we are still getting to grips with all the ongoing data we are receiving in this pandemic, there is much we can learn about from previous crises and global health events.
School closures lead to learning losses. This is the most obvious take and it is evident in both rich and poor countries. However, the response rate and long-term impact is what is most alarming. Take for example, Pakistan. After schools were closed for more than three months due to an earthquake in Pakistan, children’s learning levels were significantly lower even several years after schools had re-opened. Children who struggle in school are much more likely to drop out later and, in particular during school closures, girls are tasked with more household work, including childcare, which can further cut into learning time.
There is much we can learn from the Ebola outbreak of 2014-15 when over 10,000 schools were closed in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea which impacted around 5 million school children. The impact was most severe for girls. Many girls who lost a parent had to deal with reduced income, so this meant the children had to work for money. Girls in Sierra Leone, following the Ebola epidemic, were forced to sell stone, fruits, scrap metals and other items that they found. In other cases, it even meant transactional sex. Loss of household income led to girls marrying young to help generate income for families in the form of dowries even more so if there is an unplanned pregnancy.
In African countries, during the same crisis, girls often became the main earners of the householders. They even became the primary carers of sick members of the family as well as having to look after younger siblings. All of this results in girls being pulled away from school temporarily, and in most cases, permanently. Even prior to the Ebola outbreak, school-aged girls in Guinea had only completed 0.9 years’ worth of school compared to boys, who completed an average of 2.7 years of schooling.
However, it is not just education that is affected by such crises, disruption of health services and continuous school closures allow for an increase in likelihood of adolescent pregnancy. We are seeing this now, with reports that up to one million girls in sub-Saharan Africa may never return to school due to pregnancy during the COVID-19 closures.
The Malala Fund has predicted different risks to girls based on past epidemics and surveys of frontline service organizations reflects similar concerns that girls will be more adversely affected than boys by school closures. With all these factors, COVID-19 could have a severe impact on girls’ education with 20 million girls potentially being out of school once this pandemic is over with many more missing out on months and years of learning.
Even though the development of a vaccine has provided hope for many, social and economic recovery is still far on the horizon and we must act now in order to prevent further loss of education for girls across the Commonwealth.
We must not fail to act in the absence of current data but learn from past crises and invest in the right policies to provide girls access to necessary resources for better health and education. Therefore, the work of Helen Grant MP, Special Envoy on Girl’s Education, is more important than ever. Unless we support vulnerable children now, we will set back decades of progress.
Here at the CFOC we will support Helen Grant MP to encourage a more ambitious approach to girls’ education from the international community as we seek to build back better from the Covid crisis and remain leaders of championing every girls’ right to 12 years of quality education.
Register here for our launch event with Canadian Prime Minister, Kim Campbell & Helen Grant - https://us02web.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_gl1P4Po2SNOqOrC5wg2P3w