For most students, the COVID-19 pandemic has been a tragedy of multiple dimensions. With schools closed, many children lost access to a relatively safe environment at a time when the deteriorated economic conditions at home led to increased stress as well as domestic violence. Meanwhile, 350 million of the poorest children in the world lost their main meal when schools closed. Given the huge digital divide, most countries attempted different forms of remote learning with platforms that combined online methods with TV, radio, and the distribution of learning materials. But no app, algorithm, or TV program can be a substitute for the teacher in the learning process or for students’ interaction in building social skills. The learning opportunities provided by schools to children in poor households are perhaps one of their few options for escaping poverty. In shutting down schools, societies were also shutting down one of the few social levelers.
But closing down schools goes beyond losing core skills – there is mounting evidence of its effects on anxiety, depression, and considerable harm to children’s mental health and well-being. School closures have also been associated with an increase in suicide rates among children and adolescents. In addition, school closures reduce female labor participation and increase the gender wage gap.
The Flexible Learning Strategies for Out of School Children programme is a UNESCO initiative with the aim of supporting inclusive and quality education for every child in the region. Our goal is to reach the remaining and most vulnerable 5% of children with no access to education in the region and support quality improvements in learning for every child.
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