COVID-19 is exacerbating the educational gap for children in humanitarian settings

Refugee girl wearing a face mask at school  Refugee girl wearing a face mask at school © REUTERS/Muhammad Hamed

This article is a brief presentation of the International Rescue Committee’s report on the impact of COVID-19 on child education in conflict areas 

The International Rescue Committee (IRC) is a humanitarian non-governmental organization which has been delivering help to people living in conflict-affected areas since its creation in 1993. In its latest report, issued in August 2020, the IRC focuses on the risks of falling behind for children living in humanitarian settings, which have been considerably increasing due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Even though almost 1 billion children worldwide have been affected by school closure, as the report underlines, children living in humanitarian settings have to face much more dramatic consequences than those living in a safer context. 

For these children, the COVID-19 pandemic meant a drastic loss of opportunities, undermining their learning and developing possibilities. For instance, school closures in contexts where remote alternatives are limited or completely absent resulted in a wider learning gap. Because of the existing digital divide, as a matter of fact, children living in conflict-affected areas might not be able to easily transition from classrooms to online learning. Overall, fragile and conflict-affected states are less likely to effectively and properly respond to the challenges posed by the pandemic. As the report shows, less than one-quarter of low-income countries are currently providing any form of remote instruction. Moreover, in the least developed countries, only two in ten households have access to the Internet, which makes remote instruction basically impossible. 

As the report states, 86% of children in developing countries no longer have access to education because of the pandemic, compared to only 20% of their counterparts in developed countries. 

As the economic conditions of fragile countries are worsened by the pandemic and schools remain closed, moreover, the risk of school dropout increases: in such a critical situation, children might be required by their families to drop school and start working. As reported by IRC, the risks of exploitation, early marriage and child labor are even higher for girls and estimates indicate that more than half of refugee girls might not return to school after the pandemic. 

The IRC’s report underlines that, unfortunately, education is usually underfunded in humanitarian crises. For instance, in the framework of the Global Humanitarian Response Plan for COVID-19, only 4% of the 10.26 billion dollars provided is destined to education. IRC recommends that donors should re-evaluate needs for the next Global Humanitarian Response Plan for COVID-19 in January 2021, in order to prioritize education. The report also addresses its recommendations to national governments, underlying that they should include refugees in their national remote learning strategies and adapt their approach to distance learning for different remote learning environments. In this regard, the report provides several examples of solutions implemented by IRC to reach children in precarious circumstances: in Bangladesh, for instance, IRC was able to pilot tablet-based learning to ensure distance learning for Rohingya children. In Colombia, IRC designed a platform to help teachers provide audio content to children in their own homes, while in Jordan it helped implementing a digital education program for Syrian refugee children which combines Youtube, Whatsapp and phone calls to deliver education. Experimenting no-technologies solutions might be useful in many conflict affected areas, as proved by IRC’s best practices, even though funding and political will are necessary to implement them. 


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Autore: Margherita Curti; Editor: Matteo Consiglio

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