Education has taken a serious blow over the last year, with a historic 1.5 billion children having been out of school due to the pandemic, of which millions are unlikely to return. As the world continues tallying the damage that COVID-19 has caused, a new report has found that school systems in a quarter of all countries are at risk of collapsing. 

The report by Save the Children has indicated that because of conflict, climate change, and now COVID-19, education in developing countries is at high risk of falling apart, with sub-Saharan Africa deemed the most at risk. The report, titled Build Forward Better, was published this week and takes a look at the state of education in developing nations, and ranks those where education is most vulnerable. 

The study stresses that in seeking solutions to make sure that children everywhere return to learning, the world should not aim to “build back better”, a phrase that has been used countless times to describe post-pandemic action. Rather it should aim to “build forward better.”

Education was not in the best state to begin with before the pandemic, millions of children were out of school and many school systems were simply not working, as such, UNESCO had already predicted that there would be little progress in reducing the number of out of school children by 2030. 

These facts have been exacerbated by the pandemic, with increased poverty and access to remote learning also proving a struggle for developing countries. Due to COVID-19 highlighting the growing cracks in education systems, Save the Children has pointed out that it won’t be enough to simply restore things to the way they were before. 

On the release of the report, chief executive of Save the Children UK, Gwen Hines, reiterated this point. 

“We already know that it is the poorest children who have suffered the most as a result of COVID-19 school closures,” she told the Guardian. “But sadly COVID-19 is just one of the factors putting education — and children’s lives today and tomorrow — under threat.”

“We need to learn from this dreadful experience and act now — but it is simply not good enough to build ‘back’ to how things were,” she continued. “We need to build ‘forward’ and differently, using this as an opportunity for hope and positive change.”

In analysing what needs to be done to build forward better, the report breaks down the eight countries whose education systems are the most at risk of collapse if immediate action is not taken. These countries are: 

1. The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)

The DRC has experienced several threats to the well-being of its people that have had further knock-on effects for access to education. The eastern regions of the country have been in the midst of civil conflict for several years, resulting in displacement and making it unsafe for children to access education. 

Alongside this, the country has seen recent Ebola outbreaks and an outbreak of the bubonic plague that has disproportionately impacted children. This year thousands of people, including children, have also been displaced due to a volcanic eruption at Mount Nyiragongo. 

2. Nigeria

Safety for children in Nigerian schools is not guaranteed as kidnappings have become more and more common in the nation. While the COVID-19 pandemic has increased poverty, leading to children having to leave school, the country’s biggest problem is school security. Abductions of school children have increased in the last year, with schools being seen as targets for insurgent groups. 

3. Somalia

Over 3 million children in Somalia are out of school due to conflict, drought, and the pandemic. Not only has the country been in the midst of a two-decade long conflict, but it experienced one of the worst droughts in its history in 2011, which hiked up food insecurity. When resources are scarce and poverty increases, households hold back from sending children to school. 

4. Afghanistan

As the world tentatively watches the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan, access to education is one of the things most at risk now that the group has taken leadership. This is especially true for girls, whose education under the previous rule of the Taliban was prohibited. With more than half the population living in poverty, access to education has already been scarce, and ongoing conflict in the nation has continued to make matters worse.

5. South Sudan

Floods in South Sudan have impacted and displaced millions of people, with worsening food security and increasing poverty levels leading families to pull children out of school. The country has also been plagued by internal conflict for almost a decade. 

6. Sudan

Sudan has one of the highest rates of out of school children in the North African region. This is because of a combination of conflict and poverty as parents are unable to pay for school resources and fees, with nearly half the population living below the poverty line. 

7. Mali

The biggest driver of being unable to access education in Mali is violence — conflict in the country has been ongoing for almost a decade, impacting access to school, food, and resources. As a result, while school in Mali is free for those aged between 7 and 16, the destruction of schools and the loss of learning resources has led to a fall in the quality of education.

8. Libya

As common with the rest of this list, Libya has been experiencing civil violence for a decade that has impacted livelihoods and access to education. Hundreds of thousands of children have been displaced, and while education is free in the nation, it is not easy to access as a result of the war. The pandemic has exacerbated poverty in the country taking matters from bad to worse in terms of children returning to school. 

The report also lists the countries where girls’ education is most at risk, which includes most of the above listed countries, as well as Syria and Iraq, pointing to the fact that when resources are scarce and conflict ensues, girls are the first to be pulled out of schools. 

In response to education in developing countries hanging by a thread, the report outlines a strategy to get things on track and “build forward better.” This includes: recovering from the pandemic; preparing for the next potential threats to education; increasing security around learning; and focusing on equity in order to provide every child with education. 

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Defeat Poverty

Education Is in Danger of Collapsing in a Quarter of Countries. These 8 Are Most At Risk.

By Khanyi Mlaba