After the COVID-19 pandemic was declared in 2019, the world almost came to a complete halt. Life became still, flowers blossomed and were unharmed by humans. Birds and animals which were rarely seen before, came out in the open and were enjoying the bounty of nature. The sky and the environment started becoming less polluted and more and more clear. The Himalayas were seen more clearly. Families in many places suddenly got ample time to spend with each other like never before. In some cases, families who were in different places were separated for a long time as there was no way of travelling back home or people going to visit each other. Although the impact on climate looked positive in many cases, lives for those who were the most deprived and the most marginalised started becoming more and more difficult as the pandemic bit into their incomes.
Finally, towards the end of 2022 and the beginning of 2023, restrictions were lifted fully and people have now stated to move around for their livelihoods and other activities as before the pandemic. But now many are struggling with the adverse impact of this disease on their lives. During this period, there has been a vast change in the global education system. As the children were forced to stay at home because of the pandemic, the schools were taken to their homes via the internet. Some parents had reached a stage where the first school-goers during the pandemic might have thought that mobiles and laptops were their school. This was for those who could afford this luxury. But a majority of the children going to school were suddenly pulled out of school and could not afford the sophisticated technology that could help them access education from home.
The INSIGHT had covered several articles on the impact of COVID-19 on education during the Pandemic and, in one article, it had given data of a survey conducted among low-income communities in eight countries of Asia and Africa. This survey gave an alarming statistic that around one in two girls, approximately 49 per cent, is at a higher risk of not returning to school once it was considered safe to reopen. This research was conducted in India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and Tanzania during April to June 2020 by Room to Read, an NGO working on Girls Education in low-income societies to help them stay in school and realise their dreams of improving their and their communities’ livelihoods.
The research was conducted while many countries were under lockdowns imposed by their governments to prevent the spreading of the coronavirus pandemic. The same research exposed that in Nepal the risk was slightly more than the other countries. Here too, the rounded figure came to be one out of two girls, but, approximating 53 per cent. Around the world, according to the UNESCO estimates, 129 million girls are out of schools, including 32 million of primary school age and 97 million of secondary school age. It is a positive note that globally the primary, and secondary school enrolment rates are getting closer to each other for girls and boys (90 per cent male and 89 per cent female). However, it is still a reality that while two-thirds of all countries have reached gender parity in primary school enrolment, completion rates for girls is still lower in lower-income countries.
Around 63 per cent female primary school students complete primary school compared to 67 per cent male. Also, in low-income families, secondary school completion for girls is also lagging behind. Around 36 per cent of girls complete lower secondary school compared to 44 per cent boys. In the upper secondary schools, 26 per cent young men complete while only 21 per cent young women complete the same level. Before the pandemic, due to efforts by governments and international agencies, there was progress on girl education; however, the pandemic has had an adverse effect. According to the World Economic Forum (WEF), before COVID-19, the longstanding educational disadvantage for women had been declining and, in some cases, there was also a “reverse gap” where girls were outperforming boys in enrolment rates and learning outcome.
However, the WEF states that evidence suggests that the pandemic may slow or reverse these gains, mainly because there was an increase in school drop outs. The e-learning during the pandemic did not reach every household. The children, especially girls of low-income households, children with disabilities, were less likely to access remote education. Facilities like electricity, connectivity, devices for e-learning, proper technologies were often not available to these children. On top of that, social and gender discriminations manifested themselves at an alarming rate. Therefore, the newly-formed government must review data that was published during the pandemic that more than 53 per cent girls of low-income families could be at risk of dropping out.
The most important fact here is that this could indicate that the work Nepal government and international agencies could be undone because of the pandemic. The WEF report mentions that the schooling gains of girls and women are under threat as an impact of the pandemic. Before the pandemic they were staying in schools for longer hours and learning more than at any other time. The longstanding disadvantage for girls in terms of enrolment had been declining. But now there is a danger that this progress could be reversed. Therefore, now the elected officials should start focussing more on the immediate needs of the country rather than always being in competition with each other for power.
(Sharma is a journalist and women rights advocate. email@example.comTwitter handle: @NamrataSharmaP)