22 million children in South Asia missed out on early education due to Covid-19, says UNICEF

Prashasti Awasthi Mumbai | Updated on July 23, 2020 Published on July 23, 2020

Prolonged school closure and limited access to distant learning have dealt a big blow

As many as 22 million children from South Asian countries, including India, have missed out on early childhood education in their critical pre-school year due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, reveals new research by the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF).

The research was released on Wednesday. It zeroed in on the predicament of childcare and early childhood education globally. It analysed the impact of widespread Covid-19 closure of vital family services.

In the South Asia region, UNICEF covered Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka for the research.

Raising concerns over the disruption of early education, UNICEF Regional Director for South Asia, Jean Gough, said: “Children are among the hardest hit by the Covid-19 pandemic in South Asia. Prolonged school closure and limited access to distant learning have deprived children of their universal right to education.”

“Childcare and early childhood education are foundational in helping children reach their full potential. Failing to act now will jeopardise the futures of millions of children in the region,” Gough said.

Lockdown impact

The research further noted that lockdown has been a setback for innumerable families as they try to balance childcare and paid employment. This gets tougher for women, on average, as they spend more than three times longer on care and housework than men.

“At least 40 million children worldwide, of which nearly 22 million are from South Asia, have missed out on early childhood,” UNICEF added in its research.

They also missed out on education in their critical pre-school year as Covid-19 shuttered childcare and early education facilities.

The crisis deepens for children who come from low and middle-income countries many of whom are unable to get access to social protection and services.

Underprivileged women are left with no option other than to bring their children to work. This happens particularly in the informal sector.

“More than 9 in 10 women in Africa and nearly 7 in 10 in Asia and the Pacific work in the informal sector and have limited to no access to any form of social protection. Many parents become trapped in this unreliable, poorly paid employment, contributing to intergenerational cycles of poverty,” it said.

Guidance to governments

The research brief also gave guidance to governments and employers on how they can improve their childcare and early childhood education policies. This includes enabling all children to access high-quality, age-appropriate, affordable, and accessible childcare centres, irrespective of family circumstances.

UNICEF also suggested social protection systems, including cash transfers, that reach families working in non-formal employment.

“It takes a village to raise a child. Parents and caregivers are undoubtedly feeling the stress from juggling work, household duties, and childcare. Governments and employers must play their part to help ensure proper childcare and access to education,” Gough added.

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Published on July 23, 2020
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