By Samira Sadeque
UNITED NATIONS, Apr 24 2020 (IPS)
Soon schools in Timor-Leste, Ukraine, and Kosovo, where some 6.5 million children are currently at home, will hopefully start teaching their children once again — albeit online.
A learning platform, originally designed to assist refugee and displaced children, was launched this week to address the current global crisis affecting children who are out of school as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
Timor-Leste, Ukraine, and Kosovo are the first three countries to adopt the programme for their schools, which includes programmes such as online books, videos, and additional material and resources for children with special needs and their parents.
“Timor-Leste, Kosovo and Ukraine, where approximately 6.5 million learners have been affected by school closures, were the first to identify a need; gain necessary approvals; and access relevant content to support the roll out of the Learning Passport in their markets,” United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Chief of Education Robert Jenkins told IPS.
The platform that was designed to assist refugee and displaced children was launched this week to address the current global crisis affecting children who are out of school as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
The programme, called “Learning Passport” was launched to “help children continue their education from home during the pandemic,” Stéphane Dujarric, spokesman for the Secretary-General António Guterres, said at a press briefing on Monday.
“It was scheduled to start as a pilot programme this year, but it has now been scaled up to become available in all countries with a curriculum that can be taught online,” he added.
According to the latest estimate by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), 1.57 billion children from more than 190 countries are impacted because of the global coronavirus lockdown.
Reality for refugee children
Meanwhile, Jenkins said that under the current lockdown the refugee children are likely to face increased risk.
“The needs of refugee children are even more acute,” Jenkins told IPS this week, adding that children who are displaced have limited access to a host of services such as testing and treatment.
On top of all these factors, measures taken to address the pandemic such as lockdowns and school shutdowns are affecting their safety and education.
“We are seeing that some displaced children – many of whom rely on school for their one nutritious meal a day and access to clean water – are going without the basics,” says Jenkins. “Moreover, displaced children are likely to face an increased risk of neglect, abuse, gender-based violence and child marriage as families are left with even more socioeconomic hardship.”
For a community already living under hardship, this is only further exacerbating the problem, says Jenskins. He voiced concerns that many who have been restricted to go to school might never return to school once the lockdowns are lifted.
18 months in the making
The ‘Learning Passport’ has been in the making for 18 months, and was scheduled to be launched this year for the education of refugee children. Once the pandemic broke and schools started being shut down, the programme went through an expansion process in order to address this new and urgent need.
Jenkins added that UNICEF is working with teams on the ground in different countries to “identify specific gaps and needs; validate the above criteria; and identify and map”.
Brad Smith, President of Microsoft, has said that the solution should be exactly how the problem is: one with no borders. He also highlighted that the programme will be effective with collaboration of public and private sectors.
A continuing gap
One gap that remains, however, is that the programme is accessible only to those who have access to the internet. Only 30 percent of low-income countries have been able to ensure digital training for students, as IPS reported last week.
Neither Microsoft nor UNICEF, however, were able to give details on how this would address the digital divide that excludes many children who don’t have access to to the internet or digital technology, in mainly low socio-economic countries.
“For children and youth who do not have access to an internet connection there should be solid plans in place to ensure the continuity of learning – through radio programmes, television and textbooks,” Jenkins said. “Teachers, parents and trusted community members must be able to guide children through their learning and check on their progress.”