Fifteen-year-old Saada* from Yemen, has been displaced as result of the country’s ongoing conflict. Saada* learned to read and write in Save the Children's temporary learning space in the displacement camp where she now lives. Due to the coronavirus outbreak students attend the temporary learning space in shifts to allow for social distancing.

Fifteen-year-old Saada* from Yemen, has been displaced as result of the country’s ongoing conflict. Saada* learned to read and write in Save the Children's temporary learning space in the displacement camp where she now lives. Due to the coronavirus outbreak students attend the temporary learning space in shifts to allow for social distancing.

The World’s Poorest Children can Safely go Back to School if Leaders Invest $370 per Student

FAIRFIELD, Conn. (Jan. 11, 2021)—Fears of a lost generation in the world’s poorest countries can be quashed by investing $50 billion to ensure 136 million children can return to school safely, Save the Children said today.

An analysis published today by the child rights organization found that it will cost an average of $370 per child to safely open schools again and get learning back on track in 59 of the world’s poorest countries.

These new figures follow research from Save the Children last year, which suggested that almost 10 million children may never return to school—while noting that this is likely to be a significant underestimate.

“Without education, we would not have the success of the COVID-19 vaccines and the prospect of a safer world. Children who are currently out of school are our future doctors, scientists, truck drivers, and plumbers,” said Janti Soeripto, President & CEO of Save the Children US. “If 2020 was the year of finding the vaccine, 2021 needs to be the year of investing in children’s future.”

As many countries cannot afford the cost, particularly as governments prioritize healthcare to tackle the second wave of the virus, international donors need to work with national governments to fully fund a plan for all children to return to school safely. The priority should be the poorest and most marginalized like girls, refugees, displaced children, and children with disabilities, the organization said.

Save the Children research has found that refugees are dropping out of school at a higher rate than other children due to economic hardship and because refugees are being left out of national education responses. In a recent survey of Al Hol, Roj, and Areesha camps in northeast Syria, where at least 5,500 children have stopped going to school, 79 percent of teachers said this was due to pressure to work in order to support their families financially.

Even before the pandemic, UNHCR estimated that almost half of school-age refugee students were out of school in the countries where they had rigorous enough data.

As well as missing out on an education, children out of school are also vulnerable to child labor, child marriage, and other forms of abuse. As a result of the economic impacts of the COVID-19 crisis, Save the Children warned of a dramatic surge in child marriage and adolescent pregnancy, with up to an additional 2.5 million girls at risk of child marriage over five years and adolescent pregnancies expected to rise by up to one million in 2020.

Despite some schools having reopened in Uganda, more than 13 million children remain out of school since the end of March last year, including 600,000 refugee children. In Nwoya district in northern Uganda, figures from the police and Ministry of Health (HMIS) show that cases of teenage pregnancies and child marriage doubled, and rates of child labor tripled between April and June last year, while children were out of school. Due to difficulties in reporting these issues, the real picture is likely to be much more severe.

Jonathan,* a 15-year-old South Sudanese refugee living in a camp in east Uganda, said he misses going to school and worries for his friends.

“Things have really changed since March last year,” said Jonathan.* "I’m now worrying that some of our friends who are girls are now getting pregnant because of the school closures. Some are dropping out of school because they have now got married. And some of the boys are going to work for other people, on their farms or in the market. Some of them have been doing heavy work and there is no food to eat—so at the end of the month, they find they are becoming very thin and have health problems.”

Save the Children urges governments and donors to take five urgent steps to ensure that children who were in school prior to COVID-19 closures can safely return:

  1. Financial support for the world’s poorest families, so they can send their children to school and keep them healthy;
  2. Catch-up classes for students who re-enter the formal education system;
  3. Water, sanitation and hygiene facilities in schools, to make them COVID-19 safe for students, teachers, and their families;
  4. National back to school communications campaigns to inform communities that it is safe for children to return;
  5. Effective training for teachers to keep everyone safe during the COVID-19 pandemic.

‘‘The longer children are out of school, the less likely it is they will return, as children from poorer families run an increased risk of being put to work or married off,” Soeripto continued.

“Last year pushed us into a healthcare and economic crisis, and into the biggest education emergency we’ve ever seen. It is critical that international donors and national governments now prioritize the education of millions of children across the globe.’’

*Name has been changed

Save the Children believes every child deserves a future. Since our founding more than 100 years ago, we’ve changed the lives of more than 1 billion children. In the United States and around the world, we give children a healthy start in life, the opportunity to learn and protection from harm. We do whatever it takes for children – every day and in times of crisis – transforming their lives and the future we share. Follow us on FacebookInstagramTwitter and YouTube.

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