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Education in a quarter of the world’s countries is on the brink of collapse without urgent action

New analysis from Save the Children finds that factors such as climate change, a lack of COVID-19 vaccines, displacement, attacks on schools and lack of digital connectivity are jeopardising access to schooling.
21 September 2021
The education of hundreds of millions of children in a quarter of the world’s countries is at extreme or high risk of collapsing, Save the Children said today.

New analysis from the organisation finds that factors such as climate change, a lack of COVID-19 vaccines, displacement, attacks on schools and lack of digital connectivity are jeopardising access to schooling.

The news that education is on the brink of collapse in 48 countries comes as academic school years tentatively re-start in many parts of  the world with millions of children still unable to go into the classroom due to COVID-19 safety measures, economic impacts of the pandemic and continued attacks on education. This is on top of the 258 million children across the world who were already out of school prior to the pandemic[1].

Leaders need to learn from the COVID-19 education crisis, which has disrupted schooling for more than 90% of the world’s learners[ii], and shock-proof education systems to ensure children in a quarter of the world’s countries don’t have their futures stripped from them, the child rights organisation said.

According to Save the Children’s new report, Build Forward Better, the DRC, Nigeria, Somalia, Afghanistan[iii], South Sudan, Sudan, Mali, and Libya have education systems that are at ‘extreme risk’. Syria and Yemen follow closely behind.

13-year-old Salem’s* school in Yemen was damaged in the country’s long conflict. He said: ‘I wasnt doing well at school because there are no blackboards there and no activities. The playground was destroyed, the blackboards were all broken. Studying is important as I wish to become a doctor in the future.”

Save the Children has been rehabilitating schools in Yemen like Salem’s and he has now returned to the classroom.  He said: ‘When they (the schools) are not fixed, and theres no education, no teacherswe are unable to learn. We do not feel safe when the schools are not fixed.

Sergio*, 16, fled economic hardship in Venezuela for Colombia three years ago and lives in a refugee settlement with his four brothers, mother and her companion. He hasn’t been at school since the pandemic started and, with the support of Save the Children, is attempting to learn from home. Colombia is one of the ‘high risk’ countries identified in the new research.

He said: ‘We’re not at school. I really need it, because if I don’t study, I won’t reach my goal.

‘I imagine myself having graduated as a forensic doctor, that I have a new life, a better living standard.’

It is estimated that 10-16 million[iv] children are at risk of not returning to school due to economic impacts of COVID-19 alone. Parents may pull children out of school to work, or they may be forced into early marriage.

The climate crisis exacerbates the already huge risk, as schools are damaged or destroyed by extreme weather events, and an increasing number of children will likely have to flee their homes, leaving behind their education.

The international community, including donors, need to step up and take responsibility for some of the factors that have placed these education systems at risk, such as conflict, climate change and vaccine inequity, Save the Children said. The charity pointed to the recent Global Education Summit, which failed to raise the target of $5 billion for global education, as an example of weak commitment to the world’s poorest children.

The new data, which is the first of its kind, follows recent Save the Children research, which found that on average, children in low-income countries have lost 66% more of their lifetime schooldays during the pandemic compared with their peers in more well-off countries.

Inger Ashing, CEO of Save the Children, said: “We already know that it is the poorest children who have suffered the most as a result of COVID-19 school closures.

“But sadly COVID-19 is just one of the factors that is putting education – and children’s lives today and tomorrow – under threat. Around half of the 75 million children who have their education disrupted each year do so from climate and environmental threats like cyclones, floods and drought. Climate-related events have already contributed to over 50 million children being forced from their homes[v]. Abhorrent attacks on schools continue in countries like Nigeria and Yemen.”

Adding to ongoing contexts of huge youth unemployment, little primary school education and the digital divide in access to remote learning, these are creating a perfect storm for the next generation, Save the Children said.

According to the report, in order to save children’s education and prepare for the future, Ministries of Education and donors must work to tackle these threats to schooling. The affected countries need much more additional investment in their education systems from international donors.

Ashing continued: ‘Children have suffered so much from this pandemic. We need to learn from this dreadful experience and act now– but it is simply not good enough to build ‘back’ to how things were. We need to build ‘forward’ and differently, using this as an opportunity for hope and positive change.

‘A child’s right to education does not end in an emergency.’

Notes to editors

Save the Children proposes an eight-point plan to build forward better. This includes:
  1. COVID-19 RECOVERY: Ensure children can return to school safely and get their learning back on track.
  2. PREPAREDNESS AND ANTICIPATORY ACTION: Every country must have an integrated preparedness plan to secure children’s learning and wellbeing in future crises.
  3. TARGET OUT-OF-SCHOOL CHILDREN: Ensure children who face discrimination and were out of school before the pandemic can access safe learning opportunities.
  4. KEEP LEARNING SAFE: Protect learning from violence and attacks, and from the impact of the climate emergency.
  5. SCALE UP AND ADAPT FINANCING: Urgently fill the education financing gap and adjust financing modalities to enable anticipatory action.
  6. GET THE DATA RIGHT: Collect more and improved data, and continuously share data widely for agile decision-making on preparedness and anticipatory action and policy making.
  7. FOCUS ON EQUITY AND CHILD PARTICIPATION: Reach the children most affected by inequality and discrimination first and include children in analysing, designing, implementing and evaluating programmes.
  8. SHIFT POWER: Move decision-making power and resources into national and local civil society.
 Related content
  • Sergio*, 16, Colombia:
  • Salem*, 13, and Afrah*, 15, Yemen: 
  • Joseph, 6, Edith, 6,  Uganda:
Media contact: Angus Smith / 0488 330 882

[ii] Save our Education report, Save the Children, July 2020
[iii] This index was put together prior to the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan in August 2021
[iv] Different estimates exist on the impact of COVID-19 on children dropping out-of-school, including from Save the Children and UNESCO. This figure describes the range of estimates across both analyses.
[iv] Climate Mobility and Children, UNICEF 2020

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