Children from low-income families, students with disabilities, and girls were less likely to access distance learning than their peers, the report said. Reasons for that disparity, it said, included“a lack of access to digital devices, the availability of electricity and internet connectivity, and gender discrimination.
The school closures “exacerbated the gender divide,” Robert Jenkins, director of education for Unicef, said in the news release.
“In some countries, we’re seeing greater learning losses among girls and an increase in their risk of facing child labor, gender-based violence, early marriage, and pregnancy,” Jenkins said. “To stem the scars on this generation, we must reopen schools and keep them open, target outreach to return learners to school, and accelerate learning recovery.” (See a related article, “Pandemic Will Force Thousands of Refugee Girls to Become Brides Instead of Students”.)
Exams in Arab Countries
Arab countries were among the many countries that made difficult decisions regarding high-stakes exams that affect whether students advance to the next level or graduate. At the end of the 2020-2021 academic year, 89 percent of Arab countries maintained elementary education exams as planned, and 11 percent canceled exams.
At the upper secondary level, 79 percent of Arab countries maintained exams as scheduled, 5 percent canceled exams, another 5 percent postponed exams, and 11 percent modified exams by reducing content or providing more flexibility for students. (See a related article, “Arab Universities Struggle With Final Exams and Reopening Decisions”.)
Radi commented on the consequences of the exam disruptions. “Tests were dealt with randomly in most of the inter-school stages,” he said. “They were replaced by research papers submitted by students to schools with the help of their families, or teachers at their own expense. This method greatly contributed to the students not benefiting from the curricula, as their main goal was to succeed without academic achievement.” (See a related article, “Covid-19’s Second Wave Leaves Plans for Resuming On-Campus Studies in Doubt”.)
After a detailed review of the present and future costs of school closures, the report recommends that “reopening schools remains a top and urgent priority globally, to halt and reverse the course of learning losses, and for countries to develop learning recovery programs with the aim of ensuring that students of this generation obtain at least the same competencies as the previous generation, and that these programs cover three main objectives: strengthening the curricula, extending teaching time, and improving the effectiveness of learning.
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In its recommendations, the report states: “Reopening schools and keeping them open should therefore be the top priority for countries, as growing evidence indicates that with adequate measures, health risks to children and education staff can be minimized. Reopening is the single best measure countries can take to begin reversing learning losses.”
See a collection of all of Al-Fanar Media’s articles on how the pandemic has affected education, culture and the arts across the Arab region.