• Wednesday, June 19, 2024
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COVID-19: Millions of Nigerian children at ‘extremely high risk’ of dropping out of school forever – Report

Deep budget cuts to education combined with rising poverty caused by the COVID-19 pandemic could force millions of Nigerian children out of school forever, with millions more falling behind in learning, a new report warns.

Before the pandemic, Nigeria already had an estimated 10 million out-of-school children, one of the highest rates in the world.

According to the report released by Save the Children on Monday, other countries in Africa whose children are at extremely high risk of not returning to school after the lockdowns lift are Niger, Mali, Chad, Liberia, Guinea, Mauritania, Senegal and Cote d’Ivoire.

Before the outbreak, 258 million children and adolescents were already out of school in 12 countries.

Read also: WHO struggles to prove itself in the face of Covid-19

As countries are expected to shift funds in the fight against the COVID-19 outbreak, the report warned that the pandemic threatens to cause an additional gap of at least $6.2 billion in investments in education in sub-Saharan Africa region over the next 18 months.

Globally, the gap in education spending could be as high as $77 billion.

The report noted that girls are likely to be much worse affected than boys, with many forced into child marriage. As the impact of the recession triggered by COVID-19 hits families, many children may be forced out of school and into labour markets.

“The impact of school closures extends beyond disruption to education – they also carry other risks to children. Children who are out of school are at greater risk of being recruited into labor, abuse, violence and exploitation, and for girls, they are more likely to never return to school when lessons re-commence,” Mercy Gichuhi, country director, Save the Children International Nigeria, said.

“As pressures mount on low-income families, children may need to work to bolster family incomes, and girls will face a disproportionately larger burden for caring for family members who contract the virus and taking care of younger children. Therefore, there is a tendency that the situation could add millions more into the existing caseload of out-of-school children in Nigeria,” Gichuhi said.

The director said that many of the poorest children in low-income and conflict-affected countries may not have literate parents, and do not have access to internet or devices needed to access distance learning, limiting the support available to them.

“In sub-Saharan Africa, 89 percent of the pupils do not have access to household computers, 82 percent lack internet access and around 28 million students live in locations without mobile network coverage. Losing out on months of learning means many children will struggle to catch up, increasing the likelihood of them dropping out of school,” she said.

She stressed that the shortfall in investment in education could set back or even bring an end to the education of millions of children in low and middle income countries.

“One of them is the 12-year-old Buba from Nigeria – he and many other children in his village can no longer go to school, as it was closed due to the virus,” Gichuhi said.

The report quoted Buba saying that he wants to go back to school to meet with his friends, to play and study again as they used to.

“I remember the day school closed. We were writing some tests when they told us to hurry up with the test, because there is a virus coming. Because of the virus, they shut down all schools. I miss my studies because we don’t have access to school anymore. My family does not have a radio so I can’t listen to school program. I spend most of time with my father in the farm and sometimes fetch water for my family,” Buba said, according to the report.

Eric Hazard, Save the Children’s Pan African Advocacy and Campaign Director, warned that if the education crisis unfolds, the impact on children’s futures would be long lasting.

“The promise the world has made to ensure all children have access to a quality education by 2030, will be set back by years. Governments need to help schools who are preparing to re-open, to ensure that children can return safely and make up for lost learning time. We have to protect a whole generation from losing out on their education. We must take action now,” Hazard said.

Save the Children called on governments and donors to respond to this global education emergency by urgently investing in education as schools begin to reopen after months of lockdown. It advised that $35 billion be made available by the World Bank.

The agency also urged commercial creditors to suspend debt repayments by low-income countries globally – a move that could free up $14bn for investment in education.