By Francis Aubee
COVID-19’s impact on healthcare systems, the global economy, work and school life has become evident for all to see. Policymakers, politicians and economists have their work cut out in the coming months and year(s). Well established, developed economies and developing ones alike have been impacted to various degrees. Below are some key impacts of COVID-19, this time, looking at girls education in developing economies.
First, the pandemic has exacerbated global poverty by pushing more people especially those in developing economies into poverty. This is largely due to loss of income, changes to sources of livelihood and lack of financial and welfare packages to fall back on. In Nigeria, an estimated 15 to 20 million people will fall into poverty by 2022 mainly due to COVID-19. As at April, it was projected that 23 million people in sub-Saharan Africa will be driven into poverty, while the projected number for South Asia stood at 16 million. This could spell danger in terms of more out of school children, often girls. As often observed, the girl child will likely be at risk of not completing their education when families have to make tough financial decisions. Rather than going to school, the exacerbated levels of poverty could push many young girls into some of these scenarios: having to sell petty items, agricultural products for the family; staying at home to do household chores; having to move to relatives who will take care of them while they provide domestic housekeeping duties; or getting married to take some financial burden off their families.
Second, in terms of resource access, a lot of girls do not receive the same access to technological devices as boys do. Given the rapid use of technology, many local schools might not have the facilities for online learning and even in cases where they do, not all the students will have access. HRW finds that boys tend to get more access to technological devices, data, etc., than girls. This lack of access means that girls will be further disadvantaged, the longer the pandemic continues. Special need students will likely not be adequately catered for, it at all.
Third, change in the level of academic performance. Due to several factors constraining education for all, the added responsibilities – childcare duties, household cooking, etc. – that girls would face poses a threat to their academic performance due to less time spent studying, reading and learning. Additionally, some of these new responsibilities will prevent many girls from collaborating with their classmates adequately or even having the chance to partake in extra-curricular activities.
As noted from the lessons learned during the Ebola epidemic, a lot of school-age girls in Africa were not able to return to school either because they had to be bread winners for their families, teenage pregnancy or factors beyond their control. Now with COVID-19, it is estimated that about one million girls in the Sub-Saharan Africa region will not be returning back to school due to teenage pregnancy while schools have been closed. Even as mere estimates, the numbers are damming. Furthermore, this also raises the issue of possible rise in sexual violence, trafficking and exploitation of girls during this period which will impact their studies.
These and many other factors heightened by COVID-19 will only contribute further to the gender education divide. It is worth noting that boys education is also affected in many ways, however, a tailored approach is needed to address some of the key challenges and impacts discussed. Girls are and will be affected disproportionately, with many seeing their education come to an abrupt halt. Therefore, any post-pandemic economic and social development plan must be drawn inclusive of school-age girls, and young women. By so doing, some long lingering challenges to girls education in developing economies might also be addressed along the way. Governments and CSOs have a critical role to play to ensure a safe, accessible and productive education ecosystem for girls going forward.
Francis Aubee is an economist with research experience working on institutions, informal economy, migration and financial markets. Francis has a BA in Economics and a Minor in Political Science from McDaniel College, in the US. He has also obtained a Master’s degree in Emerging Economies and Inclusive Development from Kings College of London, in the UK.