Publisher’s Editorial by Georges Budagu Makoko
As of September 16, with no clear end to the health crisis yet in sight, 943,066 people worldwide have died from the new coronavirus, and over 30 million people have contracted COVID-19. We all know that the crisis threatens the economic well-being of individuals and nations. Equally devastating is the disruption to education systems around the world, with consequences likely to be felt for a generation, and possibly beyond.
Nowhere are concerns about education more acute than in the poorer parts of the world, including many countries in Africa, where 710 million children have been cut off from schools, according to Global Partner for Education. In addition, in many African countries, schools cannot afford to provide the materials and technology necessary to keep students at least somewhat on track academically while they are shut down, which means that few children in developing countries are afforded the luxury of studying remotely, as children are able to do in the United States.
Even those countries in Africa that have tried to connect teachers and students through radio or TV programming, or by using phone apps like WhatsApp, have failed to reach many children because the infrastructure for technology is so limited. This renders education completely inaccessible to many. Anticipated consequences down the line include an expected spike in illiteracy rates and a decline in graduation numbers. Dr. Lazare Sebitereko, Director of Eben-Ezer University in DR Congo, shared an additional concern with me: as young people are cut off from the hope an education brings, they will become more attracted to membership in armed groups and may seek prosperity that way, thereby bringing increased destruction down the road to a continent that has already suffered far too much from violence.
Growing up in DR Congo, in a family with uneducated parents, I had many friends who never got an education. Many of these friends now live in critically compromised conditions in my native village. Yet these were smart kids. It was the environment and circumstances in which they grew up that determined their future and what they were able to achieve in life. In my own case, I was motivated by personal curiosity to pursue an education, and circumstances aligned in my favor. As a result of my education, my life changed. My heart aches for the millions of kids around the world who will be seriously impacted by the current pandemic. Generous people, philanthropies, and governments should not forget these children.
Neither should we forget perhaps the greatest lesson of this pandemic – that we are all interconnected. Therefore, the more resources we allocate to bolster educational systems around the world during this difficult time, the better off and less troubled all of our societies will be in the future. The Global Partnership for Education has been working hard to support developing countries as they strive to mitigate the impact that school closure is having on the world’s most vulnerable children. UNESCO has formed a coalition for the same purpose. According to UNESCO, “24 million learners from pre-primary to tertiary education risk not finding their way back to their studies in 2020 following the COVID-19-induced closures. The largest share of learners at risk, 5.9 million, live in South and West Asia. Another 5.3 million students at risk are in sub-Saharan Africa. Both regions faced severe educational challenges even before the pandemic, which is likely to worsen their situation considerably.”
Here in the United States, school systems are pouring resources into providing internet hot spots, free meals, laptops, and other materials for the students in their schools, hoping young people can safely pursue their education in the context of the pandemic. Yet even here, with resources far greater than in so many countries, some children will suffer delays in their education that could impact them for years to come. These include children from immigrant families, whose parents don’t have the language resources or cultural knowledge to help their children with their schoolwork at a time when teachers are frequently separated physically from the children they are trying to serve. As superintendents, administrators, and teachers work creatively to try to create policies and procedures that will keep everyone safe and learning through this academic year, I urge that special care be taken for children of immigrants, and others from families who face obstacles above and beyond those of mainstream American children.
Normally, this time of year in the United States is busy, with families settling in for another school year. But many parents and students are thrown by the uncertainty created by the pandemic. They are not sure whether they will be learning in-person or not, what will happen when cold weather arrives, and whether the new protocols set in place will work to keep everyone safe. Immigrant parents are particularly confused, facing the double whammy of navigating a new culture’s educational system – and, on top of that, a system reeling from the effects of the coronavirus.
As schools and school boards struggle to serve the students in their care, please reach out to them. Let them know how your children are doing, and what they need in order to succeed. In the United States, parent advocacy is always expected and encouraged. And now, more than ever, we must all advocate on behalf of all children and an educational system that works for all.