NEW DELHI: Children across the world have lost an average of 74 days of education or more than a third of the standard global 190-day school year each due to COVID-19-related school closures and lack of access to remote learning, a report by Save the Children revealed on Tuesday.
In total, an estimated 112 billion days of education have been lost altogether, with the world's poorest children being disproportionately affected, it said.
A new analysis of data for 194 countries and different regions showed that children in Latin America and the Caribbean, and South Asia, missed out on almost triple the education of children in Western Europe, the child rights NGO said.
For the study, the analysis of the total number of 112 billion days of lost education and the impact per region, Save the Children looked at existing data on school closures, access to remote learning, out-of-school rates, and school-aged population.
Broken down at the regional level, the difference in lost days of education becomes clear, it said.
Both in Latin America and the Caribbean, and South Asia, children went through around 110 days without any education, children in the Middle East lost 80 days of education, those in Sub-Saharan Africa lost an average of 69 days, in East Asia and the Pacific, children lost an average of 47 days, in Europe and Central Asia, they lost out on an average of 45 days and in Western Europe alone, it was 38 days.
In an India-centric report of November 2020, 'A Generation at Stake: Protecting India's Children from COVID-19's Impact', the child rights body had said that children are most stressed about the uncertainties that the pandemic has brought in their lives.
Three out of every four children reported an increase in negative feelings since the outbreak of the pandemic, many citing reasons like ambiguity over getting back to school, no contacts with teachers or friends, loss of livelihoods in the family leading to insecurities and violence in the household relationships.
One out of 10 children said they would not be returning to school or do not know whether they would return to school once they reopen.
Eight out of 10n parents from the program participants group reported that children are learning little or nothing at all.
"Therefore, all children's return to school is urgent, but for this all stakeholders must come together to provide children the support they need to return to school safely. Living through this pandemic will have made many anxious and they will have missed out on basic needs, like playing with friends," the NGO said.
"They may also feel enormous pressure to make up for lost education. Children should be able to take their time, the process to resume regular schooling should be a school-by-school, child-by-child process that does not add pressure," it added.
"We will lose the war against the pandemic if we do not ensure children get back to school safely, have access to health services, have enough to eat and are protected," said Sudarshan, CEO, Save the Children, India.
As schools were closed and remote learning was not equally accessible for all children, the biggest education emergency in history widened the gap between countries and within countries, Save the Children said.
There have also been huge discrepancies in access to learning in wealthier nations during the pandemic as they too have struggled to provide equal online alternatives for school-based learning, the NGO said.
In Norway, while almost all youth between nine and 18 years has access to a smartphone, 30 per cent did not have access to a computer at home.
In the Netherlands, one in five children does not have a computer or tablet for home learning.
Governments and donors need to take immediate action to prevent an irreversible impact on the lives of millions of children who may never return to school, the rights body said Besides losing out on learning, children out of school are exposed to a higher risk of child labour, child marriage and other forms of abuse, and are more likely to be trapped in a cycle of poverty for generations to come, it said.
The global pandemic is estimated to push an additional 2.5 million girls into child marriage by 2025, it said.
Save the Children emphasised that with the G7 coming up, world leaders need to prioritise supporting children to return to school as safely as possible - especially girls.
Also, governments and donors must close the education financing gap, with a particular focus on ensuring that the Global Partnership for Education achieves its replenishment target of USD 5 billion for the next five years (2021-2025), it said.