A STATE OF EDUCATION EMERGENCY
“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”
The unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic has shattered the education system. It has affected
more than 1.6 billion children all over the world. 1 As the pandemic has drastically increased
the disparities amongst the already vulnerable groups such as the children and adults who are living in rural and poor areas, refugees, girls and people with disabilities, we see a large
proportion of them dropping out of school to meet the financial needs of the families which have been hit by the pandemic.
The developing and underdeveloped nations have been fighting long battles to provide access to education to these people. The pandemic seems to erase all the efforts. According to United Nations Report 2 , around 23.8 million additional children may drop out of school or not have access to schools due to the economic impact of the pandemic. The COVID-19
pandemic and its disruptive effects on education are not over yet as the world waits for a hit
by the third wave.
This leads me to illustrate the title of this blog. What is the state of emergency I am talking
about? And why am I calling it an emergency? The answers to these questions shall unfold
gradually in this blog.
EDUCATION BEFORE COVID-19
Millions of children are on the verge of losing out on their education. The price they will
have to pay to this pandemic is their future. We must act today to save this generation of
children and their education. This unparalleled emergency requires immediate action. But a
question arises that was this hit on education a sudden state of affairs? The answer is NO.
Even before the pandemic, the world was in an educational crisis. 258 million children and
young people were already out of school which equates to 1/6 th of the global school-age
population and 800 million adults were illiterate. For over a decade, no improvement has
been made for getting more children in schools. Girls have been the most affected, as around 9 million girls never stepped into a classroom as compared to 3 million boys. 3
According to World Bank Report, around 53% of children in low and middle-income
countries cannot read and understand even a simple story by the end of their primary
schools. 4 Therefore, the facts very clearly state that the pandemic has deteriorated an already in distress state of education across the globe.
ADVERSE CONSEQUENCES OF COVID-19 ON EDUCATION
The COVID-19 pandemic and school closures have most severely affected the already
marginalized and vulnerable children and their families. It has exacerbated the already
existing gaps and disparities within the education system. It has interrupted the learning,
deprived them of opportunities for growth and development and increased social isolation.
Many children rely on free meals provided in schools such as Mid-Day Meal Scheme in
India, for healthy nutrition. With closed schools, nutrition is also compromised. Also, school
closures have resulted in homeschooling, but it is outlandish for parents who are uneducated
or lack resources for providing such quality education to their children. Distance and e-
learning has aggravated their problems as they lack necessary resources.
As the dropout rates increase, there is a simultaneous increase in violence and exploitation of children. It is seen that girls are dropped out of schools and married at tender ages and boys are sent out to seek work to support their families. The taking out of these children from the safe environment of a school and placing them in such vulnerable positions results in their exploitation.
The period of early childhood of a child up to the age of 6 years, is very crucial for his/her
learning and development. Due to the shutdown by the pandemic, there are approximately
165 million children between the age of 0-5 years who have lost out the early child care and
learning centers. Many children do not return to school after long closures. Therefore, the
longer the schools are closed the more the children will suffer and it will have long term
negative impacts on their education and health.
EFFECTIVENESS OF E-LEARNING
With the closure of schools all over the world as a precautionary measure to prevent the
spread of the virus, the governments turned to online mode for uninterrupted learning.
However, the implementation of an online learning mechanism, especially in developing and
under-developed countries has not been satisfactory. The data shows that in high-income
In countries, distance learning covers approximately 80-85% while in low-income countries it
has a coverage of 50%. 6 This is large because of the digital disparities. The latter do not have required access to technology, electricity, and low digital literacy amongst the teachers,
students, and parents.
Also, most exams have been postponed or canceled or have been alternated for online testing and open book exams. This has drastically affected the performance of children. The online learning format has some cons too. Many parents of pre-school children have not enrolled their children in online schools and courses because it will increase the time their children spend online or in front of a screen. This will impact the child and his/her development shortly more than zero-learning.
The unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic has shaken the education system and has set down
the world in a state of an education emergency where the reopening of schools and colleges
seems outlandish. The format of online learning has unfortunately helped only the privileged
sector and not the disadvantaged. But the governments are trying and laying the necessary
groundwork for a rebound.
As the graph of daily COVID-19 cases is going down there breathes a little hope of reopening of schools soon. Meanwhile what needs to be done is proper planning, making the education system strong enough to dodge and survive such pandemic situations, and making technology more accessible through education investment.
The onus of restoration and improvement lies on the governments and the international
community to conduct reforms so that the children, the youth, and all the education
stakeholders find their role in making it happen.
1 UNESCO, COVID-19 Educational Disruption and Response, 2020, at https://en.unesco.org/COVID-
2 Save the Children, Save Our Education, 2020, at https://www.savethechildren.net/save-our-education
3 UNESCO, New Methodology Shows that 258 Million Children, Adolescents and Youth Are Out of School,
2019, at http://uis.unesco.org/sites/default/files/documents/new-methodology-shows-258-million-children-
4 World Bank (2019) Ending Learning Poverty: What will it take? at
5 The Indian Express, Early Childhood Education: A Silent Victim Of COVID-19? May 6, 2021, at
6 United Nations, Policy Brief: Education during COVID-19 and beyond, August 2020,