The education gap in Africa is widening at an alarming rate.
School closures from COVID have led to an increase in early marriage, early pregnancy and gender-based violence. As such, fewer girls are returning to school. World Vision International estimates as many as one million girls across sub-Saharan Africa may be blocked from returning to school due to pregnancy during COVID-19 school closures.
In addition, many rural and lower income children will not return to school as a result of the economic havoc COVID unleashed on their families. Many more families have fallen into extreme poverty as a result of the pandemic.
Finally, the quality of education in sub-Saharan Africa lags behind all other global regions. A staggering 88% of children and adolescents lack minimum proficiency levels in reading. (UNESCO 2017)
Abigail Oppong from Ghana, AOEF Youth Advisory Council leader and Youth Ambassador with Ariel Foundation International, notes “While the community has always learnt to prepare for the worst, no one planned for this pandemic and as such, it is having adverse effects on children’s education”.
Eno Okpo, AOEF Youth Advisory Council leader and Executive Director of Enabled to Enable in Nigeria, notes while most private schools adapted to online distance learning, it only benefitted the wealthy. The education gap has widened in lower socioeconomic households because parents who lost small businesses due to Covid can no longer meet the financial demands of the family.
While the government provided school lessons on the radio, Eno notes, “it wasn’t such a wise effort because there was no provision for monitoring and evaluation, no form of feedback, and the majority of families still do not have [radio] sets. Also, while schools were closed, most children were helping parents hawk wares in order to make ends meet….”
Patrick Karekezi, student at African Leadership University, UN Youth Champion for Disarmament at the United Nations and AOEF Youth Advisory Council leader for Rwanda, notes “the transition to online learning exposed and exacerbated inequalities within our academic communities. The students that go to government schools had a whole year go to waste…their school systems and learning models are only structured for in-person classes.” He added, “students who go to these schools are often from lower income earning backgrounds, and they could not afford laptops, smartphones or the daily internet data bundles.”
While great progress in education had been made in many regions of Africa over the past decade, some will be set back by a decade or more as a result of this pandemic.
The Cold Truth: The Education Gap is Part II of a series of articles researched, contributed to and written by members of AOEF’s Youth Advisory Council and Young Friends of AOEF.