UNESCO’s senior policy analyst Anna Cristina D’Addio points at a range of factors. First of all, teachers lacked support and the necessary skills for long-distance teaching. Even in high income countries such as the Netherlands and Japan, surveys showed that only 5 out of 10 and 3 out of 10 had the necessary ICT skills to engage in online teaching. In many countries teachers also lacked the necessary devices. What’s more, teachers across the world were also confronted with the mental health challenges of their students while at the same time experiencing an increased burden of work in their own lives, given that many of them were teaching from home, while having to look after their own quarantined children.
Infrastructure and technology were another major factor in undermining distance learning: in many low income countries people lacked electricity at home, did not have access to internet or lacked stable and strong internet connections. Shifts to teach through radio or television broadcasting did not solve problems for poor families in LIC: in the DRC only 8% of the population owns a radio, in Nepal only 5% of the population owns a television, to give a few examples. Students who did have access to internet, radio or television, might still have been unable to follow classes, as many students do not have a quiet room for studying.
Gender norms impeded girls' access to education
Boys’ and girls’ access to technology was also impacted by pre-existing gendered expectations regarding gender roles. Whereas boys were able to follow classes on their mobile phones, for example, many teenage girls could not as their parents did not allow them to have a mobile phone out of fear this would put their daughters at risk. As girls stayed home, they also did a bigger share of the domestic work than they would have if they were out of the house to attend school. For many children and young people, school closures also meant the school was no longer there as a safe place, to escape from hunger, poverty and possible violence experienced at home. An estimated 11 million girls might not return to school after the end of the pandemic. They are at risk of early marriage, early pregnancy and sexual and gender-based violence.
What is the long-term impact of the school closures?
The long term impact of these major educational challenges found by UNESCO and its partners are not clear yet. Continued monitoring will be needed, improving the available data, paying attention to intersections and advancing the integration of gender in policy responses.
The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on inclusion and equity in education was presented by UNESCO on October 21st to the members of the ‘Parliamentarians for the 2030 Agenda’, Belgium’s parliamentary group following-up on Belgium’s contributions to the realisation of the SDGs, with a particular focus on gender, health and rights.