The headlines are full of alarming and unprecedented statistics reflecting the shockwaves that COVID-19 is sending around the world. Probably every person on Earth has been affected directly or indirectly, and it is an undeniable reminder that all of us are in this together. Those of us who are only being inconvenienced by having to work from home and restrict our movements are sadly the lucky ones. The tragic numbers of deaths, infections and job losses are historic, breaking records at every turn. Another shocking statistic is that suddenly, 743 million girls and young women are not in school.
A new Plan-UNESCO blog addresses the response needed to ensure the education of these 743 million girls is sidelined only for a few months and not lost completely.
Our recommendations draw on lessons from Ebola affected-countries, where girls’ learning at home was limited by an increase in domestic and care responsibilities and a shift to income generation, as shown by Plan International’s analysis.
Several studies found that the closure of schools during Ebola increased girls’ vulnerability to physical and sexual abuse, transactional sex and child marriage. COVID-generated economic shutdowns and mortality will likely have much larger impacts.
Here are five specific program recommendations based on Plan and UNESCO experience and research:
Safeguard vital services
Girls and the most vulnerable children and young people miss out on vital services when schools are closed, specifically school meals and social protection. Make schools access points for psychosocial support and food distribution, work across sectors to ensure alternative social services and deliver psychosocial support by phone call, text and radio.
Leverage teachers and communities
Work closely with teachers and communities to ensure inclusive methods of distance learning are adopted and call for continued investments in girls’ learning. Community sensitization on the importance of girls’ education should continue as part of any distance learning program.
Adopt appropriate distance learning practices
In contexts where virtual classes are less accessible, consider low-tech and gender-responsive approaches. Send reading and writing materials home and use radio broadcasts and texting to reach out. Ensure schooling is flexible and allows self-paced learning so as not to deter girls who often disproportionately shoulder the burden of care at home.
Consider the gender digital divide
In contexts where digital solutions to distance learning and the internet is accessible, ensure that girls are trained with the necessary digital skills, including the knowledge and skills they need to stay safe online.
Ensure return to school
Provide flexible learning approaches so that girls are not deterred from returning to school when they re-open. This includes pregnant girls and young mothers who often face stigma and discriminatory school re-entry laws. Others will need catch-up classes.
Plan has a significant role to play in this effort in thousands of communities around the world and also as advocates for these girls with the U.S. Government. As U.S. foreign aid is put to work to address the shocking disruptions of COVID-19, Plan reminds the key decision-makers that smart investments can ensure that millions of girls return to school, benefitting themselves, their communities and our shared world.
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