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Save our Education

03 September 2020, Action for Change

We’re at risk of losing an entire generation’s education

The rapid spread of COVID-19 across the world has forced schools to shut their doors to over 1.6 billion learners. For the first time in human history, an entire generation has had their education disrupted. Our new Save Our Education report reveals nearly 10 million children may never return to school. 

The school that 13-year-old Hawo from Somalia attends is closed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s not the first time her education has been interrupted. When her village was hit by drought in 2017, Hawo’s family lost everything. Over the past three years, they settled into a new home and started to build a new life. Hawo went back to school and was happy to be learning again.

But now the COVID-19 pandemic has turned her life upside down once again. Without access to a TV or radio in her village, Hawo has limited ways to continue her studies during school closures. “I don’t know when we will be able to go back, so that I can continue my education and meet my friends,” she says. “This really worries me.”

She’s also afraid her school might never re-open. 

I am worried about my teachers. Most of them come from far places, and if the school closure continues they will leave us, and if they leave us we won't get teachers, that is what I am worried of.


Hawo* with her father Abdi. Hawo fears she may never get to go to school again.
Photo: Said Fadhaye


Nora Charif Chefchaouni, Save the Children Australia’s Senior Education Adviser says for children like Hawo, going back to school won’t be easy.

Even if they can go back in school, they may not be able to catch up with their studies. Some children will be able to catch up because they have support at home but many of the poorest children won’t have that advantage. These are the ones who are at risk of dropping out permanently if we do not support them.

Nora Charif Chefchaouni, Save the Children Australia’s Senior Education Adviser

What happens to drop-outs

When children drop out of school, it can have cascading effects that last a lifetime. “If you don’t have education, there’s no way you can build your future nowadays,” explains Nora. “If you are dropping out of school at 10 or 12 years old, you are usually headed into a low paid job, and you will probably be stuck in that type of occupation your whole life. These jobs are not for children, in many countries they would be illegal. They can be physically harmful, subject to worker exploitation, and harm child development. And it means the negative cycle of poverty will repeat.”

Forced marriage is a frightening option for many girls who drop out. For 17-year-old Haouaou* it is was something she narrowly avoided. “When schools were closed, I was afraid that I would be married off or that my friends would be married off,” she says.

It's school that protects us from marriage, if it wasn't school, we'd all be married by now.


Haouaou is grateful school has kept her away from forced marriage.
Photo: Ali Adamou / Save the Children


That frightening possibility has generational impact, says Nora. “Getting girls to stay in school has not only an impact on them, but on their children too. Studies have shown when girls are educated even the nutrition level of their children is higher.” 

“To really change a girl’s life, it’s important for girls to go up to the high school level. This is where they can get most of the benefits. At the end of primary school, you have the foundational skills – numeracy, literacy and critical thinking. But in terms of being able to get some return in terms of opportunity for jobs, or opening up a career path, it’s important to go to a higher level, ideally secondary education and beyond if possible.”

Making schools safe 

Governments have a duty to ensure that every child is supported to return to school when it’s safe to do so – especially vulnerable and marginalised children – so they can return to learning, a sense of normality and they are protected from violence and abuse.

“We must ensure the safety and wellbeing of children and staff,” says Nora. “That includes things like disinfection procedures, support for handwashing facilities in schools, and awareness of social distancing protocols. But it also means looking out for children’s mental health and protection from forced marriage or child labour.”

“We will have to do more to increase demand for education among the poorest communities. Then, once they are in school, we’re not done yet. We will need to test what children have learnt and what they have missed out on. We have to support teachers to help these children catch up – whether that’s through additional classes, or radio school, or other things. And we will need to motivate the struggling learners so they will be engaged and they don’t give up.”
A child’s right to education does not end in an emergency. We must do what we can do protect their future.  

*Names have been changed to protect the real identities of children and their families 

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