October 02, 2020

Five things you need to know this week about global education

Children are beginning to return to education after the first wave of coronavirus

Photo credit: UNICEF / Dejongh

Our news roundup looks at school reopenings and Covid-19 rates, an award for a champion of exploited children and the coal miner's daughter who's an education star in Afghanistan.

Reopening schools 'not linked to rising Covid-19 rates' says study

Widespread reopening of schools after lockdowns and vacations is generally not linked to rising Covid-19 rates, a study of 191 countries has found. But lockdown closures will result in 300 billion missed school days during 2020.

Analysis by an independent foundation said 84% of those days will be lost by children in poorer countries and warned that 711 million students are still out of school.

"It's been assumed that opening schools will drive infections and that closing schools will reduce transmission - but the reality is much more complex," said Randa Grob-Zakhary, founder and chief executive of Zurich-based Insights for Education (IfE).

The vast majority - 92% - of countries that are through their first wave of coronavirus infections have started to reopen school systems, even as some are seeing a second surge. IfE found 52 countries that sent students back to school in August and September – including France and Spain – saw infection rates rise during the summer vacation period compared to when schools were closed.

In the UK and Hungary, however, infection levels dropped after initial school closures, remained low during the holidays and began rising after reopening. Grob-Zakhary told Reuters news agency: "The key now is to learn from those countries that are reopening effectively against a backdrop of rising infections." The report said 44 countries have kept schools closed.

Extra 2.5m girls at risk of child marriage

An estimated 500,000 more girls risk being forced into child marriage and as many as one million more are expected to become pregnant in 2020 as a result of the economic impacts of the pandemic, new analysis from Save the Children reveals.

The increase - which would reverse 25 years of progress - comes on top of previous estimates of 12 million girls being forced into marriage this year. 

“The pandemic means more families are being pushed into poverty, forcing many girls to work to support their families, to go without food, to become the main caregivers for sick family members and to drop out of school - with far less of a chance than boys of ever returning,” said Inger Ashing, CEO of Save the Children International.

South Asia is expected to be hardest hit, with nearly 200,000 more girls at risk of child marriage in 2020.

Award for champion of exploited children

UNHCR’s Nansen Refugee Award Laureate 2020, Mayerlin Vergara Perez

Photo credit: UNHCR / Nicolo Filippo Rosso

The 2020 Nansen Refugee Award has been won by a Colombian educator who has spent more than 20 years rescuing sexually exploited and trafficked children, many of them refugees.

Mayerlín (Maye) Vergara Pérez, 45, has dedicated her life to defending children. Her foundation has assisted over 22,000 child and adolescent survivors of commercial sexual exploitation, and survivors of other types of sexual and gender-based violence.

“Sexual exploitation has a huge impact on children, emotionally, psychologically, physically and socially,” said Maye. “We see girls who don’t feel that their bodies belong to them.”

The humanitarian prize is given annually by UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, and honours those who have gone to extraordinary lengths to support forcibly displaced and stateless people.

Coal miner's daughter is Afghan exams ace

The daughter of an Afghan coal miner, who came first out of more than 170,000 students in university entrance exams, has set her sights on becoming the country's first female president.

Two years ago, Shamsia Alizada narrowly escaped an Islamic State militant attack in Kabul that killed dozens, including fellow students at an exam preparation class she was supposed to attend.

She hopes to become a brain surgeon but is also considering a diplomatic career. Shamsia said: "One day, I'd even like to be the first female president."

She said her supportive parents who treated her as equal to her two brothers - something she said was rare in Afghanistan, where girls "often lag behind". About 2.2 million girls are still out of school and less than 30% of women in Afghanistan are literate.

School dropout fears after Beirut blast

Child protection teams provide support to help children deal with the trauma and distress they were exposed to during the explosion

Photo credit: IRC

With 163 schools damaged by the Beirut explosion in August, at least one in four children in the city are now at risk of missing out on their education, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) has warned.

More than 85,000 students were registered at the schools damaged by the blast and it will take up to a year for the most severely damaged buildings to be repaired.

"Children need stability in their lives and school is usually the one place where they can get it. However, with so many unable to reopen as a result of the explosions, for many children, returning to school will not be an option," said Mohammad Nasser, Acting Country Director for IRC in Lebanon. 

He said there are major concerns for children, particularly girls and those with disabilities, who will have to take public transport to other schools and attend evening-shift lessons.

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