At least a third of the world’s schoolchildren, 463 million children globally, were unable to access remote learning when COVID-19 shuttered their schools, says a new UNICEF report as countries across the world grapple with their ‘back-to-school’ plans. “For at least 463 million children whose schools closed due to COVID-19, there was no such a thing as remote learning,” said Henrietta Fore, UNICEF Executive Director. “The sheer number of children whose education was completely disrupted for months on end is a global education emergency. The repercussions will be felt in economies and societies for decades to come.”

This report was made based on the situation in about 100 countries. According to this report, the loss of school closures has affected about one and a half billion children worldwide. This report is based on a worldwide analysis of the availability of housing-based distance learning techniques and equipment for children from pre-primary to upper-secondary levels. It was also found that even where the children had the necessary facilities; it was not possible to learn remotely at home due to anti-factors. According to UNICEF, these conflicting factors are likely to include reasons such as pressure to do household work, forced labour, lack of proper education environment and lack of proper support for online or broadcast courses.

The report uses a globally representative analysis on the availability of home-based technology and tools needed for remote learning among pre-primary, primary, lower-secondary and upper-secondary schoolchildren, with data from 100 countries. Even with the availability of technology and resources at home – such as access to television, radio, internet and broadcast curricula – school children may not be able to learn remotely, due to household work, forced labour, lack of proper education environment and lack of proper support for online or broadcast courses.

According to the report, in India, over 1.5 million (15 lakh) schools have been closed due to the pandemic affecting 286 million (28.6 crore) children from pre-primary to secondary levels (of which 49% are girls). This adds to the 6 million (60 lakh) girls and boys who were already out of school prior to the COVID-19. Available data indicates that approximately a quarter of households (24%) in India have access to the internet and there is a large rural-urban and gender divide. The learning gap is likely to widen across high, middle and low-income families, as children from economically disadvantaged families cannot access remote learning.

UNICEF has urged governments to prioritize the safe re-opening of schools when they begin easing lockdown restrictions. When reopening is not possible, UNICEF urges governments to incorporate compensatory learning for the lost instructional time into school continuity and reopening plans. School opening policies and practices must include expanding access to education, including remote learning, especially for marginalized groups. Education systems must also be adapted and built to withstand future crises.