Nine out of ten children around the world have experienced significant disruption to their education due to Covid-19. The impact is not the same for every child, with wide variations due to poverty and gender. Some children and families are thriving due to the slower pace of life, more family time and more time for free play and exploration, which are all linked to positive mental health outcomes. However, for other children, the closures have been catastrophic.
At a basic level, the loss of structure and routine has had a huge impact on children’s psychological wellbeing. There are social impacts due to not seeing their peers and their teachers. There are wide variations in children’s access to appropriate devices and reliable internet to facilitate remote learning. Even for those who do have access to laptops and internet, many children struggle to engage with online learning.
In South Africa, the schools have remained closed for an extended period of time. For many children there, school was the one place they could access a meal. Now they are home fulltime, food may be less reliable. Unemployment has greatly increased, brining with it financial pressure. Lack of access to reliable electricity, internet and laptops further increase educational disadvantage.
While some schools have reopened in Yemen, there is significant overcrowding with poor sanitation facilities.
For many children, this marks a premature end to their education leading to child labour and, even, child marriage. Domestic violence, sexual abuse and substance abuse have also increased.
It is important to remember that teachers play a key role in safeguarding against neglect and abuse. In Somalia and Yemen, there are reports of a rise in the illegal practice of female genital mutilation as parents take advantage of the healing time afforded by school closure, without attracting the attention of teachers who would report the crime.
It is clear that teachers and schools play a significant role in children’s lives that extends far beyond education. It is essential that children get back to school sooner rather than later. For this to happen, educators need to be prioritised on the vaccine schedule. Until then, children will continue to feel the psychological impact on their social and educational development.