A year since the start of the global pandemic and as vaccine roll-out gathers pace in Asia-Pacific, Save the Children calls for millions of teaching staff to be among the first in line to be inoculated once frontline health workers and vulnerable populations are vaccinated.
The report Under the same sky: How a year of COVID-19 affected Asia-Pacific children notes that school closures have disrupted the lives of hundreds of millions of children and put many at risk of lifelong harm. Ensuring teachers and school staff can be vaccinated is a vital step to help reduce the currently unprecedented level of disruption to children’s learning and wellbeing due to school closures.
Save the Children’s analysis shows that in South Asia, children went through around 110 days without any education. In East Asia and the Pacific, children lost an average of 47 days. In Central Asia, children lost out on an average of 45 days.[i] In Indonesia and Bangladesh, children lost more than 39 weeks of study in schools.[ii]
“I’m worried about losing a whole academic year due to COVID-19,” Amir*, a 15-year old boy from Nepal, told Save the Children.
“We live in rural areas and we don’t have access to distance learning,” said Joana*, a 12-year old girl from the Philippines.
One of the report’s authors, Save the Children’s Asia Regional Advocacy and Campaigns Director Shaheen Chughtai, said:
“The pandemic has disrupted children’s education, their social development, and their access to key services like school meals and child protection. Online classes could not replace all of this and even those classes were out of reach for millions of children from poorer families.
“Such challenges, alongside economic hardship, mean that many children will drop out of school permanently – especially girls from deprived communities, who face increased risks of sexual exploitation and child marriage.
“It is critical that teachers are prioritised for the vaccine once frontline health workers and vulnerable people are inoculated. This will help keep teachers safe at school and reduce the risk of long-term damage to children’s learning and wellbeing.”
The report finds:
- Millions of adolescent girls face an especially high risk of dropping out of school in South Asia owing to longstanding social and economic challenges.
- An additional 1.2m girls in Asia-Pacific are at risk of child marriage over the next five years, and another 256,000 risk teenage pregnancy this year. [iii]
- Gender-based violence has increased and is expected to worsen partly because when schools close, adolescent girls face higher risks of sexual exploitation and abuse. [iv]
- Children are also facing increased online violence and sexual exploitation, as children spend more time online during school closures.[v]
The report calls on governments to:
- prioritise vaccinating teachers once frontline health workers and vulnerable people have received their vaccines;
- re-open schools and support all children to return when it is safe to do so;
- expand social protection measures such as cash benefits and school meals to help poor and marginalised families keep their children in school;
- strengthen child protection services, especially for girls.
Save the Children also calls on international financial institutions and donors to increase development aid and expand debt relief for the most financially constrained countries.