How education has been affected by coronavirus

Amalie Quevedo

The coronavirus pandemic is continuing to affect the world. Whether that's from everyday living to employment and education.

Amalie Quevedo is part of our International Technical team. She explores the impact of the pandemic on our inclusive education programmes and the families of children with disabilities.

Pupil in school

Since 2015, countries around the world have been working towards the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). Goal 4 stands for quality education that is inclusive for all. So how have we been doing?

The 2020 Global Education Monitoring (GEM) Report is a great tool. Not only for tracking progress but also for mapping the future. In 2020 it's all about inclusion.

Inclusive education environments need positive collaboration. It requires collaboration between teachers, students, their parents and communities. Recommendation 4 of the GEM Report highlights how vital this meaningful engagement is. It recommends that inclusive education shouldn't get designed by governments alone. Governments should be seeking input from children and their parents too. "Everybody's view should count".

The impact of lockdown on education

It is essential to know what barriers parents and families are facing. Only then can we make inclusive education a reality. Understanding this means governments can create supportive policies and plans. As we navigate through a pandemic, understanding these barriers has never been more critical.

Coronavirus country lockdowns impact the education of millions of children globally. This particularly includes the children with disabilities that our international projects support.

We work on a range of country projects across Africa. The restrictions on movement have had an enormous impact. The impact has not just been on the project – but on children and their parents.

Children have not been able to attend school, so they are missing out on a stimulating educational environment. It is an environment that provides them with essential peer-to-peer and teacher support, and now parents have had to take on the teacher's role. They have been doing all they can to try and maintain some form of normalcy by teaching their children at home - which is no easy task. The reality is that many parents are not in a position where they can act as their children's teacher. Nor should they be.

In Uganda, we have found parents often lack the confidence to talk with teachers about their children's education. Sometimes they even feel ill-equipped to support their children with schoolwork. In many instances, parents do not have the educational level needed to assist their children. Or some parents may not be aware of what gets taught in school.

The lack of basic amenities like electricity or the internet, adds to these challenges. Naturally, this will impede on the child's ability to learn through online materials. It even impacts offline learning. Some homes may not have light for children to read their textbooks or exercise books.

Empowering parents and children with disabilities

Quality data can help us understand and confront some of the challenges presented by this pandemic. Recently we spoke to participants in our Girls Education Challenge and Transition project in Kenya. We interviewed 40 children and 40 parents.

It was positive to see that 98% of children were continuing their studies at home with textbooks and exercise books. However, children also reported challenges. Typical challenges included a lack of textbooks and access to educational television and radio programmes. Some even experienced shortage of amenities like food and lamps to study at night-time.

Encouragingly 83% of children said that they received support to study at home from their parents or guardians. However, we also found that parents struggled to do this due to their unfamiliarity in school subjects. In fact, 58% of parents admitted to not remembering or knowing the last topic their child had studied.

It is positive that despite these challenges, parents are still taking the time to study and read with them. These families are resilient in testing times to pursue education and deepen learning.

A how-to guide to assist parents, guardians and siblings

As an organisation, it's essential for us to be proactive. We need to ensure children with disabilities continue to learn during this time.

We have produced a how-to guide to assist parents, guardians and siblings. As well as our advice, radio outreach programmes have been an essential tool. They have been available across countries like Zambia, Tanzania, Kenya and South Sudan.

Not only are they sharing coronavirus updates, but messages on the right to education and disability rights too. These radio programmes also provide a way to share educational content with families. They are an incredibly efficient way of reaching out to children with disabilities in remote areas.

Food security packs, sanitary towels, assistive devices, information packs and educational materials are also in the process of being distributed in countries like Kenya. These will be essential in supporting children's learning in these unprecedented times.

Working with local communities

We've also been working closely with community volunteers and project officers to access rural areas. Where permitted, we have sent them across communities to families that are hard to reach. This outreach will help guarantee their needs are met.

While it may feel like the world has come to a halt due to coronavirus - our work doesn't stop. We, alongside our partners and stakeholders, continue to work vigorously. We are committed to ensuring parents and children with disabilities exercise their right to education. They must not be left out when governments plan for children to return to school.