By Chioma Obinna
The Global Partnership for Education, GPE, has announced the provision of US$250 million to help developing countries mitigate both the immediate and long-term disruptions to education by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The GPE COVID-19 fund will be available for 67 developing countries.
In Africa, the 39 eligible countries are Nigeria, Benin, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cape Verde, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Comoros, Congo (Republic of), Cote d’Ivoire, Djibouti, Democratic Republic of Congo, Eritrea, Ethiopia, The Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Kenya, Lesotho, Liberia, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, Mozambique, Niger, Rwanda, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Tanzania, Togo, Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe.
According to the GPE Board Chair, Julia Gillard, the funds will help sustain learning for up to 355 million children, with a focus on ensuring that girls and poor children, who will be the worst hits by school closures, can continue their education.
“The COVID-19 pandemic is creating an education emergency that could have devastating impacts on children in developing countries.
“Unless we act now to support education systems, millions of vulnerable children, especially the poorest girls, may not be able to resume learning when this crisis is over.”
At least 630 million children are out of school in developing countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America and the Caribbean. Of the 67 countries eligible for the GPE funds, 63 have already closed schools nation-wide in response to the pandemic. This has already cut more than 350 million children off from learning, but also from other vital services provided through schools, including health care and nutritious meals.
Long-term school closures threaten hard-won development gains and could expose the world’s poorest children to increased risks. Evidence shows that girls who are excluded from school are more vulnerable to gender-based violence, early marriage and other forms of sexual exploitation and abuse. During the Ebola crisis in Sierra Leone, school closures were linked to 11,000 schoolgirls becoming pregnant and being unable to return to school. Boys are at increased risk of being recruited into armed groups. Teachers may be forced to find other sources of income and may not return once the pandemic is over.
Speaking, the GPE Vice Board Chair, SerigneMbaye Thiam, noted that the organization had acted swiftly in the face of an unprecedented challenge.
“These funds will ensure that developing countries, like Senegal, are able to act quickly to mitigate the detrimental impact COVID-19 will have on the most vulnerable children and maintain the resilience of education systems.”
GPE funding will be available immediately to support coordinated and country-driven responses in up to 67 countries and meet both urgent and longer-term needs. Ministries of Education and local education partners can use the funds to ensure learning can continue, particularly for the poorest and most vulnerable, for example by producing educational radio and television programs and distributing equipment such as radios and textbooks to the poorest households. The funds can also be used to support teachers, ensure children with special needs and disabilities are included; collect data to know that learning is happening; mitigate poverty and gender barriers to learning, which will be exacerbated by economic shock; and ensure that teachers and schools are equipped to re-open when it is safe to do so.
On her part, GPE’s Chief Executive Officer, Alice Albright stated that “We are stepping up to mitigate the impacts that school closures in developing countries will have on the most vulnerable children. GPE is committed to ensuring that learning can continue, and that no child’s education is left behind.”
The US$250 million has been made available by repurposing uncommitted funds, with an expectation that additional funding will be required to help developing countries keep their education systems going through the pandemic and assist children who are vulnerable as a result of school closures. The move was approved at an exceptional virtual meeting of the GPE’s Board of Directors on Tuesday.