In early April, an estimated 128 million children in West and Central Africa (WCA) were out of school as one of the collateral consequences of governments’ response to halt the spread of the COVID 19’ virus. Over this period, some countries have been demonstrating great leadership in providing continuous learning for children while schools remained closed. However, in Sub-Saharan Africa, 89 per cent of learners do not have access to household computers, 82% lack internet access and around 28 million learners live in locations not served by mobile networks . In this context, it is likely that the most marginalized girls and boys are struggling to access distance education, and are not getting the support they need to continue learning.
For West and Central Africa, this pandemic has come on top of an existing learning crisis. Before the pandemic, the region already had the highest rate of education exclusion, with more than one-fifth of children aged 6-11 years out of school in normal times. Moreover, in June 2019, over 9,290 schools were already closed due to insecurity, affecting 2 million children and 44,000 teachers. In addition, across the region, 670 000 forcibly displaced people are living in overcrowded, under-resourced refugee and internal displacement sites with limited access to learning opportunities. Many national education systems in WCA already on a day to day basis face considerable challenges as a result of conflict and displacement, environmental emergencies and a lack of resources to respond to this structural challenge.
In this context, COVID-19 further compounds these challenges and will result in millions more children being denied their basic right to learn. Countries are under huge pressure to respond to this pandemic, putting the already insufficient education budget at risk of being reduced. The poorest and most marginalized groups are at risk of never returning to school, with children instead at risk of forced child labour and/or child marriage. The price they will pay on their future will be long lasting. From previous crisis, we know that the longer children are out of school, the greater the risk that they will not return to school. This is the biggest education emergency of our lifetime.