Survey shows Covid-19's devastating impact on children's education


From violence at home during school closures, to no contact with teachers, and having difficulty accessing health services – these are just some of the hardships children from poorer backgrounds have endured since the Covid-19 outbreak in South Africa in March.

These were some of the findings revealed in a global survey released by non-profit organisation Save the Children on Thursday.

The survey, entitled Protect A Generation, found the pandemic has had a devastating impact on the education of children, especially those from poorer backgrounds – widening the gap between rich and poor.

Research was conducted in 46 countries and resulted in the largest and most comprehensive survey of children and families during the pandemic to date, with 31,683 parents and caregivers and 13,477 children aged 11-17 years old participating.

During the first six months of the pandemic, the most vulnerable children have had limited or no access to education, healthcare, food, and have suffered the greatest protection risks.

The survey found that 93% of households that lost income due to Covid-19 had reported difficulties accessing healthcare facilities.

The reported rate of violence at homes during school closures was 17%, compared to 8% when children attended school, the organisation said in a statement.

It added that the survey also revealed that 63% of girls were more often tasked with chores compared to 43% of boys.

The NPO said the survey was started six months ago and about 25,000 children, as well as their caregivers, shared their experiences, fears, and hopes during the pandemic.

The results presented in the report focus on quantitative data from the organisation's representative sample of 17 565 parents/caregivers and 8 069 children from 37 countries in its programme participants' group.

According to the poll, more than three in four households reported income loss since the beginning of the pandemic. Poorer households were also more likely to suffer income losses at 82%, than those not classified as poor at 70%.

Around 70% of respondents who suffered economic losses reported they had not received government support.

The survey also found that almost 32% of households had a child, parent, or a caregiver who said they had experienced physical or emotional violence in their home since the start of the pandemic.

Internet access

"19% of households in which violence was reported to have taken place by children had lost all or most of their household income due to Covid-19 compared to 5% when there had been no loss of income. Violence in the household reported by children was double the rate when schools were closed (17%) compared with when schools were open, and the child was attending in person (8%).

"Responses to the survey also suggested that girls were being negatively affected by gender roles in the home. Almost two-thirds of girls (63%) reported an increase in household chores and more than half (52%) reported an increase in time spent caring for siblings and others since the pandemic began. Girls reported that this stopped them from being able to study, at twice the rate of boys," the survey's executive summary reads.

Less than 1% of children from poorer backgrounds who were interviewed had access to the internet for distance learning. For those households that classified themselves "non-poor", 19% had access to the internet.

"Around 37% of poorer families reported difficulties paying for learning materials, compared to 26% of families who classified themselves as non-poor.

"Two-thirds of the children said they had no contact with teachers at all during lockdown, increasing to eight in 10 in East and Southern Africa."

Save the Children has urged governments to make sure children who were not attending school have access to quality distance learning materials, and catch up classes offered to assist them.

The organisation added that governments need to build social safety nets and strong health and nutrition systems, especially for the vulnerable and marginalised households – to prevent any shock from future pandemics.

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