Students do the heavy lifting – governments should too | Rights of the child

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Like millions of other children, Mia Sulastri went the extra mile to keep up with her studies. When her school in Indonesia closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the 17-year-old rode a motorcycle four times a week to find a phone signal to receive messages from her teachers and send him back. email his homework.

Mia is one of hundreds of students, parents, and teachers Human Rights Watch interviewed in 60 countries over the past year to find out how they are trying to keep learning during COVID-related school closures -19.

We’ve heard repeatedly that children – who tend to escape the most severe symptoms of COVID-19 – have had to sacrifice the education they’re entitled to. School closures are part of public efforts to help protect the health and save the lives of their families, friends, teachers and members of their community.

It is a compromise that students usually make on purpose, but nevertheless at a loss.

We also heard that the failures of governments before the pandemic to provide adequate public services or to accommodate and include all students in schools, compounded the consequences of the pandemic for children’s education.

A 14-year-old girl in Lebanon told us that her English teacher canceled online classes almost every time due to a lack of electricity. Lebanon has long failed to reform its dilapidated electricity system, so those who cannot afford a private generator are left without reliable electricity.

The principal of a school with a majority of Native Alaskan students said she had the best internet plan available in her community, costing her $ 315 per month. “I can start loading a web page and go sweep my floors while I wait for the page to load,” she said. “I don’t think learning online can be an option unless the internet infrastructure is better.”

A second-grade teacher in Germany said her school has long struggled to invest in technology. “Then the announcement came that Skype would be installed on the school computers,” she said. “It turned out that the school computers did not have a camera, so the topic was closed. “

In contrast, a teacher at a private high school in São Paulo, Brazil, whom he described as “extremely privileged,” said he had already been teaching on a digital platform for five years: “In my world, things are pretty easy. “

The pandemic did not cause these problems or inequalities, it only made their consequences worse.

Governments already had strong evidence about children who were disproportionately excluded from school before the pandemic – often girls, children living in poverty, disabled or living in war zones. Yet these same children have been particularly affected by school closures.

The Ugandan government should have offered 12 years of free education to the 14-year-old boy who told us he was selling cookies on the streets of the Ugandan capital to save on school fees, after his family’s financial situation has been affected due to the pandemic.

The Armenian government should have predicted that it would be difficult for the hearing-impaired 14-year-old boy whose mother we spoke to to read sign language on a seven-split phone screen for a Zoom class.

The UK government should have done more to ensure that children from families living in poverty who eat their main meal of the day at school did not go hungry during school closures in the event of a pandemic.

Iraqi father was right when he said it wasn’t his 15-year-old son’s fault that he couldn’t write his own name – after years of forced school closures by ISIL extremists (ISIL) and no schooling in the camp for the interior. moved to where the family lived.

While the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines brings hope for a possible end to school closures linked to the pandemic, it is clear that simply putting things back as they were is insufficient and unwise.

So many students have worked so hard. Governments must assume their own responsibilities. They should improve, alleviate and correct long-standing structural inequalities in access to education, the availability of free secondary education, and accessibility to learning in the virtual or real classroom.

They must find children who do not return to class when schools reopen and give them a reason to come back, as they should for children who were not in school even before the schools closed. Governments should make primary and secondary education completely free and accessible to all children. They must erase inequalities in access to electricity.

They must stop procrastinating, recognize that the Web is now essential to educating children, and expand affordable Internet access. They must end child marriage, a major obstacle to girls’ education. They must structure education systems so that children with disabilities, indigenous people, refugees or living in areas of poverty or war, are welcome and included.

The reopening of the classroom doors is just the beginning.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of Al Jazeera.

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