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40 Percent of Children in Eastern, Southern Africa Not in School- UNICEF

Across the region, UNICEF reports that over 32 million children are estimated to be out of school because of pandemic closures due to second and third waves in some countries or have failed to return once their schools opened earlier this year.
The United Nations Children’s Fund-UNICEF estimates that 40 per cent of all school-aged children across Eastern and Southern Africa are currently not in school, due to the COVID19 pandemic. 

Across the region, UNICEF reports that over 32 million children are estimated to be out of school because of pandemic closures due to second and third waves in some countries or have failed to return once their schools opened earlier this year. That is in addition to an estimated 37 million children who were out of school before the pandemic.

“Although the number of children out of school constantly fluctuates depending on the local context, the fact that an estimated 40 per cent of the region’s children are out of school is shocking,” said Lieke van de Wiel, UNICEF Deputy Regional Director for Eastern and Southern Africa.

Lieke says that governments should prioritize education and ensure that schools remain open and safe. 

With much of Africa facing a new COVID-19 wave, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Uganda recently closed their schools nationwide, while Zimbabwe extended the academic winter break resulting in continued school closures. Rwanda and Mozambique partially closed schools in some of the areas worst affected by the virus, while South Africa opened schools this week following an extension of the winter break because of a COVID19 uptake.

UNICEF estimates that currently, some 69 million children are out of school in the region, due to COVID-19 closures as well as a range of other factors, including the inability of parents to pay school or transportation fees, child labour due to poverty, girls dropping out because of pressures to marry or inability to afford sanitary napkins during menstrual cycles, and access challenges for children with disabilities.

UNICEF also indicates that some African children have had access to online learning, but millions have little or no access to the internet, computers or phones.

“We have experienced a steep learning curve since the outbreak of the pandemic both in terms of keeping schools safe but also on how damaging it is for children and their communities when their classrooms are closed,” Ms. van de Wiel noted.

UNICEF also notes that children and schools are not the main drivers of the pandemic. So far, the health risks to children from COVID-19 have remained low.

“Given that one-fifth of all school-aged children were already out of school pre-pandemic, there is no doubt that these continuing disruptions are further fueling the world’s and the continent’s learning crisis which is heading towards becoming a learning catastrophe,” Ms. van de Wiel said.

Currently, 12 out of 21 countries in Eastern and Southern Africa have fully opened schools, and 3 have partially opened schools.

According to UNICEF, the pandemic is also exacerbating an already precarious education financing situation.  Only five of the 21 countries in the Eastern and Southern Africa region were spending at least 20 per cent of their budgets on education as per the pre-crisis Education for All target.

They now recommend to governments to further invest in meeting the conditions to keep schools open and safe availability of masks, ensuring sufficient ventilation and social distancing via sufficient desks and chairs, through water and hygiene facilities, along with resources to support catch-up on learning loss and to build back better systems to withstand future shocks.

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