Report

Learning in a COVID-19 World: The Unique Risks of Falling Behind for Children in Humanitarian Settings

Published by
International Rescue Committee (IRC)
Published
Topic(s)
Coronavirus (COVID-19)
Adolescents and Youth

Roughly 1 billion children worldwide are out of school due to school closures related to COVID-19. Children in humanitarian settings face a double crisis as the health emergency disrupts their opportunities to learn, develop and thrive. Ensuring children can continue to learn during the pandemic, no matter their access to technology, must be central to the COVID-19 response in fragile contexts. 

Summary: Key Findings and Recommendations

As schools in fragile states remain closed due to COVID-19, children are at high risk of dropping out of school altogether. Half of refugee girls may not return to school. 

Education is always underfunded in humanitarian crises, and despite the damage of COVID-19 on education globally, this has not changed. The Global Humanitarian Response Plan for COVID-19 calls for a mere 4% of the $10.26 billion appeal to go to education. As of August, only $277 million of the $403 million requested was provided for education programs. 

COVID-19 mitigation measures, such as lockdowns and school closures, introduce new and compound existing obstacles to delivering education in humanitarian settings. The digital divide means children in fragile and conflict-affected places will be disproportionately affected by school closures, as they cannot easily transition from the classroom to online learning. Gaps in learning outcomes are set to widen. 

Best practices for continuing education in no-, low-, and high-technology environments exist, but funding and political will are needed to implement them. IRC is employing innovative solutions to reach children in unique circumstances. In Tanzania, IRC has adapted materials for at-home learning, including play-based activities. In Colombia, a new audio platform will help teachers provide engaging audio content to students in their homes. In Bangladesh, IRC piloted tablet-based learning among Rohingya children without Internet access. In Jordan, Ahlan Simsim—context-specific early childhood programming—combines IRC direct services, via WhatsApp and phone calls, with Sesame Street mass media available on YouTube. 

Urgent action is needed: 

  • Host governments must include refugees and other displaced populations in national education plans for remote learning and reopening schools. 
  • Donors must fully fund the GHRP appeal for education and provide multiyear, flexible financing to support continued education for refugees and hosts. 
  • UN agencies and NGOs should conduct robust rapid digital capacity assessments that include refugees; tailor solutions to different remote learning environments; and adapt and distribute content to meet needs of children, parents and caregivers and teachers.