Coronavirus: At least a third of the world’s schoolchildren unable to access remote learning during school closures, new UNICEF report says 

Home > Media Contacts and Press Releases > Coronavirus: At least a third of the world’s schoolchildren unable to access remote learning during school closures, new UNICEF report says 

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  • Link to report here

27 August 2020 – At least a third of the world’s schoolchildren – 463 million children globally – were unable to access remote learning when Coronavirus shuttered their schools, according to a new UNICEF report released today as countries across the world grapple with their ‘back-to-school’ plans.

At the height of nationwide and local lockdowns, nearly 1.5 billion schoolchildren were affected by school closures. The Remote Learning Reachability report outlines the limitations to remote learning and exposes deep inequalities in access.

Anja Nielsen, Senior Policy Adviser, Unicef UK says:

“Prior to the pandemic, the digital divide created monumental inequity in access to education and learning resources globally. Lockdown measures across the world have seen this inequity widen within, and between, countries.

“As schools across the world prepare to reopen at a time of persistent uncertainty, governments must ensure that all pupils are able to access learning – within and outside the school walls.”

The report uses a globally representative analysis on the availability of home-based technology and tools needed for remote learning among pre-primary, primary, lower-secondary and upper-secondary schoolchildren, with data from 100 countries. Data include access to television, radio and internet, and the availability of curriculum delivered across these platforms during school closures.

Although the numbers in the report present a concerning picture on the lack of remote learning during school closures, UNICEF warns the situation is likely far worse. Even when children have the technology and tools at home, they may not be able to learn remotely through those platforms due to competing factors in the home including pressure to do chores, being forced to work, a poor environment for learning and lack of support in using the online or broadcast curriculum.

The report highlights significant inequality across regions. Schoolchildren in sub-Saharan Africa are the most affected, where half of all students cannot be reached with remote learning.

Region % of schoolchildren unreached # of schoolchildren unreached
East and Southern Africa 49 per cent 67 million
West and Central Africa 48 per cent 54 million
East Asia and the Pacific 20 per cent 80 million
Middle East and North Africa 40 per cent 37 million
South Asia 38 per cent 147 million
Eastern Europe and Central Asia 34 per cent 25 million
Latin America and the Caribbean 9 per cent 13 million
Global 31 per cent 463 million

Schoolchildren from the poorest households and those living in rural areas are by far the most likely to miss out during closures, the report says.

Globally, 72 per cent of schoolchildren unable to access remote learning live in their countries’ poorest households. In upper-middle-income countries, schoolchildren from the poorest households account for up to 86 per cent of students unable to access remote learning. Globally, three quarters of schoolchildren without access live in rural areas.

“The Department for Education has made significant efforts to ensure all children have access to learning during the pandemic. As schools in England plan to reopen, it is crucial that the Department continues to provide resources, especially to the most disadvantaged and digitally excluded children. This can be achieved by implementing a comprehensive mapping exercise to identify which children cannot access the internet and online learning facilities and to find out why. Doing this will not only ensure the children most in need can access home learning but also address concerns of the widening of attainment gaps,” Nielsen added.

The report also notes varying rates of access across age groups, with the youngest students most likely to miss out on remote learning during their most critical years of learning and development:

  • Around 70 per cent of schoolchildren of pre-primary-age – 120 million children – cannot be reached, largely due to challenges and limitations to online learning for young children, lack of remote learning programmes for this education category, and lack of home assets for remote learning.
  • At least 29 per cent of primary schoolchildren – 217 million students – cannot be reached. At least around 24 per cent of lower-secondary schoolchildren – 78 million students – were not reached.
  • Upper-secondary schoolchildren were the least likely to miss out on remote learning with at least around 18 per cent – 48 million schoolchildren– not having the technological assets to access remote learning.

UNICEF urges governments to prioritize the safe re-opening of schools when they begin easing lockdown restrictions. When reopening is not possible, UNICEF urges governments to incorporate compensatory learning for lost instructional time into school continuity and reopening plans. School opening policies and practices must include expanding access to education, including remote learning, especially for marginalized groups. Education systems must also be adapted and built to withstand future crises.

UNICEF’s Framework for Reopening Schools, issued jointly with UNESCO, UNHCR, WFP and the World Bank, offers practical advice for national and local authorities. The guidelines focus on policy reform; financing requirements; safe operations; compensatory learning; wellness and protection and reaching the most marginalized children.

As part of its Reimagine campaign aims to prevent the Coronavirus pandemic from aggravating a lasting crisis for children, especially the poorest and most vulnerable, UNICEF is calling for urgent investment to bridge the digital divide, reach every child with remote learning, and, most critically, prioritize the safe reopening of schools.

Unicef UK’s Save Generation Covid appeal is supporting children and families impacted by Coronavirus across the world. Visit unicef.uk/donate-generationcovid to donate and help #GenerationCovid.

ENDS

Notes to editors:

The analysis uses findings from the UNESCO-UNICEF-World Bank Survey on National Education Responses to COVID-19 School Closures joint survey. The number of children potentially reached by broadcast media or internet solutions are based on the availability of related assets (TV, radio and internet) at home, not their actual use by children. Hence the number of children “potentially reached” are upper estimates of the reality of children “actually reached”. Paper-based coverage is not accounted for due to lack of reliable data.

The analysis does not focus on out-of-school children. For the latest data on out-of-school children visit: https://www.unicef.org/sites/default/files/2019-12/SOWC-2019.pdf

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  • The coronavirus pandemic is the biggest and most urgent global crisis children have faced since World War Two.
  • Children’s lives are being upended. Their support systems ripped away, their borders closed, their educations lost, their food supply cut off.
  • An additional 6,000 children around the worldcould die every day from preventable causes over the next six months as the coronavirus pandemic weakens health systems and disrupts routine services like vaccinations. That’s one every 15 seconds.
  • UNICEF’s “Save Generation Covid” appeal is the largest ever for children in our 73-year history, and we urgently need funds for lifesaving support and services to ensure that children survive this crisis – and thrive beyond it.
  • Together we can Save Generation Covid.Visit unicef.uk/donate-generationcovid to donate and help save #generationcovid.

For more information, please contact:

Yemi Lufadeju, +44 20 7375 6199, YemiL@unicef.org.uk

Unicef UK Media Team, 0207 375 6030, media@unicef.org.uk

About UNICEF  

UNICEF is the world’s leading organisation for children, promoting the rights and wellbeing of every child, in everything we do. Together with our partners, we work in 190 countries and territories to translate that commitment into practical action, focusing special effort on reaching the most vulnerable and excluded children, to the benefit of all children, everywhere.

Unicef UK raises funds to protect children in danger, transform their lives and build a safer world for tomorrow’s children. As a registered charity we raise funds through donations from individuals, organisations and companies and we lobby and campaign to keep children safe. Unicef UK also runs programmes in schools, hospitals and with local authorities in the UK.

Follow UNICEF UK on TwitterLinkedIn, Facebook and YouTube.

About the Reimagine Campaign
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, UNICEF has launched Reimagine — an urgent appeal to governments, the public, donors and the private sector to support UNICEF’s efforts to respond, recover and reimagine a world currently besieged by COVID-19. Together, we can prevent this pandemic from becoming a lasting crisis for children—especially the most vulnerable—and Reimagine a fairer world for every child.

Learn about the #Reimagine campaign here: www.unicef.org/reimagine

Join us: https://www.unicef.org/coronavirus/covid-19/donate