Nationwide closures in West and Central Africa are impacting 140 million children across the region, including forcibly displaced children who are integrated in national education systems in all the countries.
The negative outcomes of prolonged school closures are likely to disproportionately impact displaced children, who not only see their education interrupted but also lose the safety offered by a school and get exposed to a higher risk of abuse, neglect, violence and exploitation. The longer marginalized children are out of school, the less likely they are to return.
In many countries of the region, remote learning is a luxury because it assumes access to technology hardware (computers and tablets) and internet connectivity. According to UNESCO, in Sub-Saharan Africa, 89% of learners do not have access to home computers and 82% do not have internet. This has sometimes led to a rejection of distance education, a cruel indicator of the digital divide, by parents and teachers (see articles pages 3-4).
In this context, many WCA countries are already preparing for the reopening of schools. While the uncertainty of duration of school closures require flexible scenarios, when deciding whether to reopen schools, authorities should conduct a context-specific benefits and risks analysis across education, public health and socio-economic factors. Centrality of protection (with regards to physical health, mental health and continuity of learning) should be considered before, during and after the reopening process.
To ensure the continuity of learning in a protective environment and to prepare for the safe reopening of schools, UNHCR is working with Ministries of Education and education partners to support students access to distance education programmes, enhance health training for teachers, support community awareness-raising activities on COVID-19 and basic prevention measures while upgrading water and sanitation facilities in schools.