The pandemic could leave 12 million children unable to read

Covid-19 has contributed to 17% of the total number of 10-year-olds falling victim to the global learning crisis, as education inequality worsens.

According to new analysis released by anti-poverty group One Campaign, 11.5 million of the world’s 10-year-olds could be unable to read by the end of 2021.

This was initially uncovered by UN population data, which found that more than half of all children across the globe will reach their milestone birthdays incapable of completing a simple sentence.

It comes as a direct result of the pandemic whereby a staggering 1.6 billion children and young people have been out of education for almost a year since schools and other institutions were forced to close to contain the spread of the virus last March. At its peak, 94% of pupils were out of education.

And, despite the rise in remote learning and online classes, a significant majority of those living in the 188 countries heavily disrupted by Covid-19 – primarily in poorer regions and rural areas – have been without access to the technology and infrastructure required to take part. Nearly 500 million, to be exact.

One Campaign, which studied the figures, says 40% of those most at risk of losing out are from Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, and that girls are being most seriously affected.

‘Before the pandemic struck, two thirds of the world’s population who couldn’t read or write were female,’ says MP and special envoy Helen Grant. ‘Today, girls’ education is an even more urgent priority.’

At present, 20 million of them are not expected to return to school, even when the education system returns to full functionality, which will lead to a ‘lost generation of female students.’

This has the potential to be catastrophic for their futures because, with just one additional year of school, a woman’s earnings can increase by a fifth.

In a hard-hitting intervention, campaigners are now urging world leaders to wake up to this global learning crisis, appealing that they do not turn a blind eye to the scale of the problem and consequently set back decades of progress.

If immediate action isn’t taken, by 2030, the number of children lacking basic literacy may well increase to 750 million – that’s approximately one in ten people.

Fortunately, One Campaign called on a G7 meeting at the end of this month to pledge an investment of $5bn in funding education initiatives.

It’s also called for G20 finance ministers to support lower-income countries and delay debt-servicing payments that could take away from education spending.

‘I believe this is absolutely the right thing to do. It’s unfair that if you are born in a particular part of the world, your options to fulfil your potential are curtailed just by not getting the right education at the start of life,’ says executive director of One Campaign, David McNair.

‘When children can’t read by the age of 10, this has a knock-on effect on their whole education, impacting on their ability to learn, earn, start businesses. This lost potential doesn’t just damage lives, it prevents whole economies from growing and hinders our collective prosperity.’

McNair finishes by rightly adding that the virus has taken enough from us already and that it’s integral we do not allow it to now take the futures of millions of children as well by denying them the chance to understand words on a page.

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