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It is important that businesses need support and need to reopen as soon as possible but being risk averse with regards to opening schools will hurt us. Not opening schools has a huge impact on the economy. The World Bank estimates that five months of school closures would cut lifetime earnings for the children who are affected by $10trn in today’s money, equivalent to 7% of current annual GDP.
Of the 1.5bn children forced out of school by lockdowns around the globe, 700m are in developing countries. Like pupils in rich countries, their education is suffering. But the consequences in poor places will be far worse. Before the pandemic, more children were in school than ever before, according to Robert Jenkins, head of education at of Unicef, the United Nations’ children’s fund. In its aftermath nearly 10m children in 40 countries might never return to formal education, estimates Save the Children, a charity.
The economic impact of the pandemic has forced many to abandon their studies in favour of work. Between 2000 and 2020 the number of children in work around the world fell by 40%, mostly because more were going to school. Covid-19 is undoing that progress.
Experts are most worried about the effect on girls. In the handful of places that have reopened schools, such as Vietnam and the Ivory Coast, teachers say girls are notably absent. Some are getting married—or being married off. Snehalaya, an Indian ngo, says its emergency hotline has been inundated with reports of this since schools closed in March. Handing a daughter over to a new husband means one fewer mouth to feed. With schools closed, idle daughters may strike up a romance or fall prey to sexual assault. Working parents forced to leave their daughters at home all day alone would rather marry them off than risk the shame of premarital sex, says Girish Kulkarni, Snehalaya’s founder.
During the Ebola crisis in Sierra Leone in 2014, when schools were also closed, teenage pregnancies rose by between 11% and 65%, according to a variety of studies. Extrapolating from these data, researchers at Save the Children think they could rise by 25% as a result of covid-19.
Children learn less, and lose the habit of learning. Zoom is a lousy substitute for classrooms. It is difficult if you have to fight with three siblings over a single phone.Poor children, who are less likely to have good Wi-Fi and educated parents, fall further behind their better-off peers. Parents who have nowhere to drop their children struggle to return to work. Mothers bear the heavier burden, and so suffer a bigger career setback. Children out of school are more likely to suffer abuse, malnutrition and poor mental health.
In normal times school helps level the playing field. Without it, the achievement gap between affluent and working-class children will grow. By one estimate, American eight-year-olds whose learning stopped altogether with the lockdown could lose nearly a year’s maths by autumn, as they fail to learn new material and forget much of what they already knew. In poor countries the costs are even greater.
Reopening the world’s schools safely will not be cheap. Besides billions of bottles of hand sanitiser, it will require careful organisation, flexible schedules and assistance for those who have fallen behind to catch up. It will cost taxpayers money, but taxpayers are often parents, too. Rich countries should help poor ones with some of the costs.
Developed economies understand this problem and the learning gap it will create. For example , the education secretary, United Kingdom, promises that when state schools return in September they will have £1bn to spend on catching up. Much of the money is earmarked for tutoring. They plan to rope in university students, volunteers, NGO.
It is difficult to answer when is the right time to open the schools, but delay has a huge economic and social cost.
Does tutoring work? The government is spending £1bn on tutoring to help pupils catch up, https://www.economist.com/britain/2020/06/27/does-tutoring-work
The risks of keeping schools closed far outweigh the benefits Millions of young minds are going to waste, https://www.economist.com/leaders/2020/07/18/the-risks-of-keeping-schools-closed-far-outweigh-the-benefits
School closures in poor countries could be devastating And governments are bungling their response, https://www.economist.com/international/2020/07/18/school-closures-in-poor-countries-could-be-devastating
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