SEATTLE, Washington — As the world continues to adjust to the new norm of socially distancing, certain aspects of life must change dramatically to maximize safety. One of these aspects is education since students must now stay at home in many countries. The effects of coronavirus on primary education, especially in developing countries, has made education more difficult for many. In developing countries, many students have limited access to the internet or devices connected to the internet, making it hard for them to keep up.
The Learning Crisis
Adding to this dilemma is the fact that the developing world had a severe learning crisis before the spread of coronavirus. About 53% of children in lower-income countries could not read by the age of 10. These children are classified as being in Learning Poverty. Previously, there were up to 35% of children without care when they returned home in some developing countries. The amount of unsupervised time for these children will increase now that teachers cannot adequately care for them during school. Without responsible adults making sure the children focus on their studies, the percentage of Learning Poverty will only increase.
The Addition of Coronavirus
These numbers are shocking, yet the pandemic has put even more strain on government and school officials. The World Bank estimates an increase of up to 25% of children below the minimum level of educational proficiency. This is aided by the fact that in 71 lower-income countries, more than 30% of students don’t have access to the internet.
On top of a lack of educational resources, many professionals believe the effects of coronavirus on primary education can extend further. They worry more than one billion children being out of school will intrude into social skills development. In an interview with Kristi DeBernardi, a first-grade teacher from Northern California, she states that preschool and Kindergarten are times where students learn essential academic skills. However, even more, it is a time where kids learn to work in groups and handle person to person interactions. She calls these skills “soft skills” and claims they are important skills to learn during such a crucial time in the growth of a child. Without them, we could have a future where students lack a foundation of social skills.
The Effects of the Pandemic on Women and Girls
In addition to the problems children in developing countries face, the effects of coronavirus on primary school impact women and girls more than other groups. For instance, girls have less access to digital platforms than boys. This disparity will only increase the dropout rate for young girls. Fewer girls in school correlate with teenage pregnancy rates going up, which then raises a number of household problems.
In fact, Whitney Cross, UNICEF’s Manager of Global Cause Partnerships, explains that during school closures during the Ebola crisis, there was a 65% increase in adolescent pregnancies in the country of Sierra Leone. This was accompanied by an increase in sexual violence and a decrease in girl’s enrollment in school. Cross believes these are the effects we will see across the developing world due to the coronavirus’ closure of schools.
Mothers are also disproportionality affected by the closure of schools. A UNICEF study conducted before coronavirus stated that in 31 low-income countries, 39% of women cared for their children while at work. This pushes women into the informal economy, resulting in women earning less money and becoming trapped in poverty. Due to many more children being uncared for during work hours, these numbers will worsen, which could have the effect of handicapping many mothers and changing the trajectory of their career path.
How to Optimize Children’s Learning Experience
Many professionals ask whether the secondary impact of coronavirus on children outweigh the primary effects. Those who think this is the case believe that minimizing the secondary impact of coronavirus for children is essential. The belief focuses on the fact that children are far less likely to be negatively affected by the virus physically. As a result, they want to send children back to schools that have established a safer learning environment. The environment should consist of more water and hygiene facilities, cleaning procedures and physical distancing measures. Additionally, they need to implement better guidelines and a “blended learning” model. Blended learning mixes classroom instruction with more guided take-home assignments. This would slow the adverse secondary effects of coronavirus on children’s development.
The main issue with this line of thought is that many developing countries cannot implement proper safety measures. Countries that cannot do this have implemented different solutions such as lessons through TV and radio usage. These forms of communication occupy the children for some time, especially with a guardian monitoring them. DeBernardi explains that if communities come together, parents could make groups to share the responsibility of watching children. Paired with adequate distancing measures, this could be an effective measure to lessen the load on mothers who have to bring their children to work.
We must work together to tackle the problematic effects of coronavirus on primary education. The governments of developing countries need to do their best to communicate with the communities. Moreover, the communities need to band together to make sure children are not left behind. With this approach, the world can minimize the negative effects of the coronavirus on primary education, which would have a lasting impact well after the pandemic has ended.
– Aiden Farr