Coronavirus leading to ‘desperately unequal’ learning levels: UNICEF


With nearly 1.2 billion children out of school due to the COVID-19 pandemic, inherent inequalities in accessing the internet and other tools, allow them to continue their studies threatens to deepen the global crisis in learning, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) warned on Friday.

A seven-year-old girl studies online at home in Kyiv, Ukraine, as schools remain closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Access to the technology and materials needed to continue learning while schools are closed is desperately unequal. Likewise, children with limited learning support at home have almost no means to support their education. Providing a range of learning tools and accelerating access to the internet for every school and every child is critical”, said UNICEF Chief of Education, Robert Jenkins.

“A learning crisis already existed before COVID-19 hit. We are now looking at an even more divisive and deepening education crisis.”

Disparities in access

UNICEF data reveals that in 71 countries worldwide, less than half the population has internet access. Yet, nearly three-quarters of governments in 127 reporting countries, are using online platforms to deliver education during the pandemic.

Authorities are mainly using television to deliver remote education, despite disparities in TV ownership.

More than 90 per cent of countries in Europe and Central Asia use the medium, and 100 per cent in South American. In Latin America and the Caribbean, the figure is 77 per cent.

UNICEF reported that in 40 of the 88 countries with data, children living in urban areas are twice as likely to have a TV than their rural counterparts. The largest disparity can be found in sub-Saharan Africa. For example, only 1 in 100 homes in rural Chad has a television, compared to 1 in 3 in cities.

Governments are also using radio to deliver educational programmes, with 60 per cent of the reporting countries using this method.

Radio ownership varies both across and within regions. Devices can be found in just one in five households in South Asia, compared to three out of four, in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Transforming education systems

Countries have been transforming their educational systems to meet the current demands, UNICEF said.

Governments in countries in West and Central Africa, for example, have been working with local service providers to deliver education for primary and secondary school children either online or through radio, TV and paper-based approaches.

“In Somalia, offline recorded lessons are being uploaded onto solar-powered tablets and made available to children”, the UN agency added.

“Video lessons are also shared through social media channels such as WhatsApp and Facebook and broadcast through radio and TV.”

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Education in Jamaica is using national television and radio, as well as online platforms and WhatsApp, to provide lessons at all levels.

Steps are also being taken to provide more than 200 of the most vulnerable students, with tablets equipped with connectivity and educational content.