INTERVIEW. Coronavirus: “90% of students deprived of class in the world”

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More than 1.5 billion students are or have been deprived of school because of the Covid-19 crisis. Head of the research and prospective program in education at Unesco, Sobhi Tawil points out the harmful effects on the health of children in certain countries (absence of a canteen, return to work) and the physical violence to which girls are exposed. Interview.

How many children have been affected by the closure of schools?

It is estimated that 90% of students, from kindergarten to higher education, were deprived of school during confinement. In some countries, they are still closed. Out of 190 countries concerned, more than 1.5 billion students were unable to go to school during the Covid-19 crisis and among them, 40% of these students were unable to access a teaching during this crisis.

What is the main consequence of these closings?

As a general rule, out of crisis, up to 80% drop out of school when talking about distance education, compared to 20% on average face-to-face. The closure of schools during the health crisis may further increase these figures.

Has children’s health been affected?

As the canteens were closed during this time, we noted problems with access to food. In many families, and not only in poor countries, school offers the only full meal of the day for children. The school, as a physical space, also represents a safe place where children can escape violence. We have noticed an increase in child labor, which, to make up for their parents’ lack of income, had to help their families.

Has the gap between girls and boys widened?

The consequences of closing schools are more serious for girls. Unesco was already talking about it in March. Covid-19 had the same effect as the Ebola crisis in Africa. There was then an increase in teenage pregnancies. These numbers increase when they cannot go to school. Young girls are also more exposed to sexual and physical violence than boys.

Should schools insist on pedagogical continuity?

Governments have emphasized technology and the need to develop distance learning. But many have forgotten to maintain the dialogue between the school and the families of the students, which is, in our view, an absolute necessity. The human dimension has in some cases been forgotten, yet it is the contact that keeps the children going and spares them from dropping out of school.

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