COVID-19 continues to disrupt learning for over 325 million children in East Asia and the Pacific.
As variants of the disease take hold in many countries, governments must heed the lessons learned from previous and ongoing COVID-19 responses.
While there will be difficult challenges ahead, this moment should also act as a trigger to reimagine the way children learn, no matter who or where they are.
It is a time for governments to shine.
We should not go back to what was. Even before school closures, far too many children were being left behind.
That is why this is the time to protect and reimagine education systems.
Closures lead to massive learning & economic losses
In 2020, many countries closed schools in response to COVID-19, despite evidence indicating that schools are not a significant driver of the pandemic.
During this time, alternative learning measures were in place through the internet, television, radio, and print. Yet, remote learning was out of reach for at least 80 million children, serving to amplify existing inequalities further.
These were children who do not have internet access, personal computers, TVs or even radio at home.
These are the children already being left behind in many places: the most impoverished, those with disabilities, those affected by migration, and those from minority ethnic and linguistic groups.
With every day that goes by under new closures, more and more children will fall further behind.
We cannot let this happen again.
Seeds of opportunity
UNICEF is working with partners across the region to respond to the COVID-19 emergency, and part of the response entails ensuring every child continues to learn.
We cannot let today’s crisis become a crisis for generations to come, which is why we are asking governments to continue investments in education and use this crisis as an opportunity to reimagine and rethink how children from all walks of life can learn.
There is no better investment than education and governments must act today to safeguard the future of the next generation.
Unless mitigation measures are implemented, the World Bank estimates a loss of $10 trillion in earnings over time for this entire generation of students.
For the Asian Development Bank (ADB), the value of these losses is estimated at $1.25 trillion for developing Asia, equivalent to 5.4 per cent of the region’s 2020 gross domestic product (GDP). Existing evidence shows the cost of addressing learning gaps are lower and more effective when they are tackled earlier, and that investments in education support economic recovery, growth and prosperity.
To compound the issue further, children and their parents and teachers have faced increased levels of anxiety and stress due to isolation, uncertainty, and fear of the future.
But there is a way to recover and rebound from this crisis.
While we are in a difficult period, putting more people into hardship and laying bear the difficult situation of millions of children already in poverty in the region, it is also creating new ideas and opportunities to close the educational divide.
Seeds of opportunity are beginning to sprout.
What we are seeing across East Asia & Pacific is that when faced with crisis, individuals and governments have the ability to rebound and reimagine how education can work for children.
A time to recover lost learning.
A time to rethink teaching & learning.
A time to reimagine education.
For every child.
Actions to take
Reopen schools as soon as safe to do so
Reopening schools cannot wait for all teachers and students to be vaccinated. With the global vaccine shortages plaguing low and middle-income countries, vaccinating frontline workers and those most at risk of severe illness and death will remain a priority.
Protect education budgets
While national budgets tighten, it is important to protect education from budget cuts. This will safeguard the investments and huge progress already achieved in recent decades – and protect children’s futures.
Alternative learning solutions
Not every child can get online, and not every school can be open safely, therefore innovative learning solutions should be created with local communities and parents.
Boost investment in teachers
Give teachers the skills and knowledge to better adapt to the new normal, with digital skills and managing home learning.
Create programmes to help children catch-up from lost learning and consider adjusting the academic calendar to make up for lost time
Education, safety, friends, and food have been replaced in some cases by anxiety, violence, and teenage pregnancy. Education needs to focus on health, nutrition, mental health and protection services.