The spread of the COVID-19 pandemic is presenting a serious obstacle for children globally in accessing education. Innovative solutions around the world are, however, helping ensure that even children in the most remote areas can continue learning.
Across Ethiopia, more than 26 million children are out of school as a result of COVID-19 restrictions on public gatherings.
One innovation to help tackle this, the brainchild of Save the Children, is a camel library. It was started in 2010 and now includes 21 camels, with the project currently reaching over 22,000 children in 33 villages.
The camels used by the camel library carry up to 200 storybooks in wooden boxes that are strapped to their backs. They have become a valuable connection between students and learning opportunities, according to Mahadiya, who is 13. Her school has been closed since March.
“Before the coronavirus, we used to go to school regularly,” Mahadiya, whose village is visited by the camel library every week, told Save the Children.
“I’m worried it may not open soon. Because of this, I am worried that we could forget some of the things we learned in school and we could fail our exams.”
She added that without their access to learning, children in her village have instead been forced into labour.
“Many children have become herders and some walk into the bush to look for firewood,” Mahadiya said.
COVID-19 has forced widespread school closures globally, keeping 1.6 billion students out of school, according to the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF). Online classrooms and learning platforms have helped to bridge much of this gap.
In sub-Saharan Africa, however, internet connectivity and owning smartphones or tablets are out of reach for the majority of the population. Ethiopia, for example, has a population of more than 105 million, yet only 15% of the population has access to the internet.
In Ethiopia, lack of connectivity is also compounded by lack of road infrastructure in rural and remote parts of the country. Camels, which are traditionally used by communities in the Somali region of Ethiopia, can travel on rough terrain for long periods of time.
The International Labour Organisation estimates that there are 152 million child labourers globally — and 72.1 million of these children are in Africa.
Ekin Ogutogullari, Save the Children’s country director in Ethiopia, said COVID-19 presents particular challenges for vulnerable populations living in high-density or resource-poor communities, migrants, and displaced children.
“In Ethiopia, we recently conducted a survey where children told our team about their perceptions and concerns about COVID-19,” said Ogutogullari. “Children raised concerns around increases in child labour, early marriage, and abuse due to the outbreak and closure of schools.”
He added: “On top of this, Ethiopian children and their families are facing floods, desert locusts, cholera, measles, food insecurity, and rising poverty levels. The scale of this crisis is huge.”
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