Desmond Situma is a ONE Youth Ambassador from Belgium.
Growing up in Bungoma, Kenya, at the age of 10, I could not read or understand a simple story, like most of my classmates. I was among the youngest students in my class, which meant that there were many older students not able to read or count like me. And there was no COVID-19 back then. What is even sadder is that this lack of basic literacy led most of my friends to drop out of school. Some felt they were too old to attend elementary school again, while others had to start working to provide support to their families. Dropping out of school is a common reality where I come from that disrupts the lives of many children, their future, and their contribution to society as citizens. My personal experience embodies a reality that has and continues to challenge the education sector for decades.
The impact of COVID-19
By the end of 2021, over 70 million 10-year-old children will be unable to read and understand a simple story. We all have witnessed what happened when all schools closed because of the pandemic and the impact of online learning. But for kids living in less developed countries, the pandemic has worsened a learning crisis that could put a definitive stop to their education. The Lost Potential Tracker shows that COVID-19 alone is responsible for over 11.4 million children out of the 70 million failing to acquire basic literacy skills by their 10th birthday this year. It is also projected that if this trend continues, over 750 million people will be lacking basic literacy skills when they turn 10 in the next decade.
Recently, there has been much discussion about the implications of COVID-19 on education, and insufficient actions have been taken to efficiently combat these negative effects, both locally and internationally. But why is education a sector in need of urgent funding? The reason is very simple: after the outbreak of COVID-19, low-income countries, which relied heavily on loans and aid, experienced huge cuts in funding for basic education. Fewer investments forced millions of children out of schools and into labour markets, especially among poor families. Even worse, keeping children out of school exposed many to mental and physical distress, including maltreatment and gender-based violence. Early pregnancies and forced marriages were also a common outcome with over 1 million girls blocked from going back to school because of pregnancies during the pandemic. This means that these children not only carry the weight of lost learning into adulthood – affecting their ability to start businesses, get well-paid jobs, and provide for their families – but lost learning will also have a huge impact on the whole society.
The EU needs to act NOW
But there is a solution: the Global Partnership for Education (GPE), a fund designed to build stronger and more resilient education systems in low-income countries, is asking governments to fund their work and get 175 million more children learning. Supporting this program is the fastest way to deliver a future in which every 10-year old child is able to read and understand a simple story.
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Ahead of the G7 Summit, my fellow Youth Ambassadors in Belgium and I want to urge the EU to make a strong commitment to GPE. To do so, together with ONE supporters, we’ve sent hundreds of postcards to Commissioner Urpilainen, the EU Commissioner for International Partnerships, explaining why pledging at least €560 million to the Global Partnership for Education is the right thing to do in order to protect the futures of youths, like my classmates in Kenya. In addition to that, we all raised our hands for education, collected more than 100 signatures in support of our Education Petition, and recorded a video of
ourselves reading the same petition in more than 20 languages! We are now sharing the video far and wide on all our social media channels, as we want to make sure our message reaches all policy-makers across the globe! I really hope that Commissioner Urpilainen, who started her career as a school teacher and thus fully understands the power education has on children everywhere, will use her leadership to make sure the EU will continue to be a champion when it comes to education.
As world leaders meet to come up with a global response to the learning crisis, join us in asking them to invest in quality education for all children, regardless of where they live. Because the children of today, are the leaders, doctors, and scientists of tomorrow.