SEATTLE, Washington — Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, many schools have transferred to strictly online learning. If schools do choose to re-open, it would only be with specific protocols in place such as mandatory mask-wearing, regular sanitization and classrooms with students safely spaced out. These measures are difficult for most schools in developing countries, where there is a lack of water and sanitation and many schools are small, with limited resources. Additionally, many schools in developing countries lack internet access to be able to continue learning remotely. This has left many underprivileged schools with few options in terms of continuing education in developing countries during COVID-19.
Education in Developing Countries During COVID-19: Facts
Education in developing countries will likely be disproportionately affected. Education systems with little resilience will likely suffer the most from the pandemic. According to the World Bank, “prolonged closures tend to have a disproportionately negative impact on the most vulnerable students.” Students in countries with fewer resources will face challenges learning at home because of the lack of materials to aid their education. The education systems in developing countries are already underfunded. In addition, many developing countries rely on tourism to support their economy and thus help to fund education. COVID-19 has resulted in 67 million fewer international tourist arrivals, according to the World Tourism Organization. Because of the lack of funding for education in developing countries, responding to COVID-19 poses many more challenges. While COVID-19 poses significant challenges in itself, many groups have been working to improve education in poor countries for decades and have made significant improvements. The Save the Children’s ACCESS project, for example, allows approximately 84,000 out-of-school children in Thailand and Myanmar access to basic education.
For many students in developing countries, online learning is not an option. According to the United Nations Department of Social and Economic Affairs, remote learning is out of reach for 500 million students globally. In addition, most developing African countries rank in the bottom third for internet availability and accessibility and only approximately 35% of people in developing nations have internet access. The lack of internet access in many impoverished countries leaves education systems with few options in terms of continuing education during COVID-19 and leaves many students unable to learn while social distancing. While internet access is a barrier for many students, the Internet for All initiative by the World Economic Forum has made strides in providing internet access in many developing countries. These strides include starting operational country programs in Rwanda, South Africa, Argentina and Jordan.
Many schools in low-income countries are not offering any alternative education. While many schools in high and middle-income countries have transitioned to some type of online learning, the majority of schools in low-income countries have not continued learning after closing in response to the pandemic. In low-income countries, approximately 25% of low-income countries have transitioned to remote learning. This number is a stark contrast to high-income countries, of which almost 90% have transitioned to an online or broadcast format. The Global Partnership for Education is working to minimize the pandemic’s effects by partnering with developing nations and working to support education systems. They have mobilized over $500 million to help partner countries respond to the pandemic.
When schools do re-open, they may lack the necessary hygiene facilities. A critical part of preventing the spread of COVID-19 is frequent handwashing and good hygiene. These things are not simple in developing or impoverished nations. In India, for example, running water is scarce. Only a fifth of households in India have access to piped, running water, as National Geographic reported. With the scarcity of running water, many schools may struggle to get access to a handwashing facility and many students may fail to keep up good hygiene at home, making attending school even more dangerous for children in poor countries. The Center for Affordable Water and Sanitation Technology is working to combat this problem by providing developing nations with the resources needed to improve hygiene and sanitation. A massive 14.9 million people are benefiting from the organization’s work.
Girls in developing countries will be affected more. Getting a good education is already a challenge for many girls in developing countries. Many societal pressures inhibit girls in impoverished countries from getting the same education as boys. The Malala Fund released a study that used past pandemics such as the Ebola virus, to estimate the effect of COVID-19 on the education of girls from poorer countries. The study estimates that 20 million more secondary school-aged girls could be out of school after the crisis has passed. In poor countries, approximately 130 million girls are already out of school for societal and financial reasons. With girls already experiencing less access to education than their male counterparts, the pandemic poses a serious threat to their futures. The Malala Fund has also increased programs related to girl’s education in response to the pandemic.
COVID-19 has drastically affected almost every student on the globe. The ones who are hurting the most, however, are those in developing nations. While their experience is disproportionately challenging, many organizations are offering support to these students to guide them through the unprecedented times that COVID-19 brings.
– Sophia Gardner