covid-19-widened-educational-divide-unesco

Context: According to the 2020 Global Education Monitoring Report released by UNESCO the coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated inequalities in education systems across the world.

Key highlights of the report

  • Non-adequate support to learners at risk of exclusion:
    • According to the report, about 40% of low- and lower-middle-income countries have not supported learners at risk of exclusion during this crisis.
    • These include sections such as the poor, linguistic minorities and learners with disabilities
  • The report also noted that efforts to maintain learning continuity during the pandemic may have actually worsened exclusion trends
    • During the height of school closures in April 2020, almost 91% of students around the world were out of school.
  • Imperfect substitutes
    • Education systems worldwide, during the pandemic responded with distance learning solutions, all of which offered less or more imperfect substitutes for classroom instruction.
    • While many poorer countries opted for radio and television lessons, 55% of low-income, 73% of lower-middle-income and 93% of upper-middle-income countries adopted for online learning platforms for primary and secondary education.
      • India has used a mix of all three systems for educational continuity.
    • However, even as governments increasingly rely on technology, the digital divide lays bare the limitations of this approach. 
      • Not all students and teachers have access to adequate internet connection, equipment, skills and working conditions to take advantage of available platforms.
  • Unavailability of the resources outside the schooling system
    • School closures due to lockdowns have also interrupted support mechanisms from which many disadvantaged learners benefit.
      • Resources for blind and deaf students may not be available outside schools.
      • Also, children with learning disabilities or those who are on the autism spectrum may struggle with independent work in front of a computer or the disruption of daily school routines.
      • For poor students who depend on school for free meals or even free sanitary napkins, these closures have been a major blow.
  • Other problems
    • Unfair to certain section of students:
      • The cancellation of examinations in many countries, including India, may result in scoring dependent on teachers’ judgements which could be affected by stereotypes of certain types of students.
    • Higher drop-out rates are also a cause for concern; 
      • For example, during an earlier Ebola epidemic in Africa, many older girls never returned to school once the crisis was over.

Combating the situation

  • According to the report, 17% of low and middle-income countries are planning to recruit more teachers, 22% to increase class time and 68% to introduce remedial classes when schools reopen.
  • However, how such classes are planned and targeted will be critical to whether disadvantaged students can catch up.

Image Source: TH