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A Generation of Children Impacted by Covid-19 School Closures

Governments Should Act to Avert a Greater Global Education Crisis

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Temwani, 11, Zambia: 2020 was a hard year. 

Annie, 16, Grassy Narrows First Nation, Canada: School was cut out about six months ago in November 2020, it is now April, almost May, 2021, so that’s six months. 

Zadie and Mika, 6, Canada:  This is our school and we haven’t been here for many weeks. And now we do work online.

Vuyisenani, 17, South Africa :  1.4 billion students were shut out of schools in 190 countries because of Covid-19. 

Zadie and Mika, 6, Canada: Now we have to spend all day in front of a computer. And we can’t see any of our friends and teachers. 

Sesili, 7, Republic of Georgia: I hate online school. I want to go to school.  

Parwanai, 17, Ritsona Refugee Camp, Greece: This one is a container that we use to have it as a space for the children and for everyone to have access to some lessons.

Covid-19 showed us how unequal education is for kids around the world. And we will probably see the effects for years to come. 

Annie, 16, Grassy Narrows First Nation, Canada:  Grassy Narrows is located an hour north/from the nearest city. We don’t have sort of schooling, no online, absolutely no school. Because internet is quite expensive.

Temwani, 7, Zambia: The introduction to online learning was a real struggle for me because I didn’t have the digital equipment such as a smart phone, a laptop or computer to access online school.

Vuyisenani, 17, South Africa: School was shut down for five months and we weren’t doing anything./Even before Covid hit, our schools were struggling. 

Parwana, 17, Ritsona Refugee Camp, Greece:  We have been far from the school and education for years and even with no answer from the ministry of education in the pandemic and it made the condition of education in the camp very serious and critical.

Vuyisenani 17, South Africa: Kids around the world showed that we all have something in common: we want to learn and we want to work hard.  

Zadie and Mika, 6, Canada: Now it’s time for the government to do the work. Opening the doors is just the beginning. 
Narrator: Education should be at the core of every country’s recovery plans. 

Gor, 16, Armenia: Quality education should be accessible to everyone, including me. 


This piece is the third in a series marking the two year anniversary of the Covid-19 pandemic. Find more of our work documenting the global response to the coronavirus here.

Cataclysm. Inordinate suffering. Widespread disruption. Intergenerational loss. This is only a snapshot of the terms used by experts to describe the fragile situation of education systems around the globe.

As we enter the Covid-19 pandemic’s third year – with many governments still fighting to curb the spread of the virus and contain the impact on health systems – a collateral crisis continues to unfold. Education systems, schools, teachers, and children are facing what the United Nations has called a global generational catastrophe.

Students attend a small in-person class at the Ignacio Ramírez Calzada primary school in the Indigenous community of Celtún, Chichimilá municipality, Yucatán state, Mexico, May 3, 2021.  © 2021 Bénédicte Desrus/Sipa via AP Images

In March 2020, no one was fully prepared to face the tremendous impact the pandemic would have on education. After all, this was an unprecedented global crisis that forced 1.4 billion pre-school, primary, and secondary school students out of classrooms. We quickly saw that Covid-related school closures affected children very unequally: Many children, across most countries, lacked equal and inclusive access to online or remote education. Many lacked the time and space to learn. Children most in need of affordable, reliable connectivity and devices still do not have the means to connect to online classes. 

We’re now beginning to see the cumulative effects. They are particularly devastating for those who faced barriers to education before schools closed, including children with disabilities, children from low-income families, and girls in many contexts.

Reports show children’s resilience dwindling; some young people share a sense of hopelessness. There’s an increase in reported mental health conditions, unmatched by sufficient investment in mental health services for youth. Many children experienced violence at home but had no access to vital protective spaces, like the clubs and psychosocial and counseling services schools provide.  

Children have lost up to two years of formal learning. Many are experiencing a regression in their educational advancement. The youngest children, and those most marginalized, face the greatest loss. World Bank experts have warned that the biggest side effect of the pandemic will be children’s lost learning, which is estimated at $17 trillion in lifetime earnings for students currently in school.

In 2020, education experts globally called on countries to embed education in their Covid-19 crisis response and to protect students’ education, as well as mobilize funding to increase remote education access.

In 2022, the plea couldn’t be clearer: Governments need to act decisively to safeguard children’s futures and prevent further education loss.

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