Desmond Situma is a ONE Youth Ambassador in Belgium.
*This blog has been updated on 14 June 2021, after the EU announced its pledge to the Global Partnership for Education.
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.
ONE Activists and supporters delivered a strong message
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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This is why my fellow ONE activists and I have been calling on world leaders to step up their commitment and contribute to fully fund GPE. In Belgium, specifically, with the help of ONE supporters, we sent hundreds of postcards to Commissioner Jutta Urpilainen, the EU Commissioner for International Partnerships, explaining why making a strong pledge to the Global Partnership for Education was 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!
And… guess what? Our actions paid off! On June 10th, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced a €700 million contribution to GPE for the next 7 years. This is a strong commitment that will contribute to transforming the lives of millions of children around the world and to addressing the global learning crisis made worse by COVID19.
I‘m really glad that President von der Leyen and Commissioner Urpinainen – who started her career as a school teacher and thus fully understands the power education has on children everywhere – responded to our call. I‘m also confident that their leadership will send a strong signal to other countries to do their part in contributing to ensure GPE gets fully funded.
👏👏 Dear @vonderleyen & @JuttaUrpilainen, thanks for the leadership shown today with your contribution to @GpforEducation.
This will send a strong signal to other countries to #FundEducation 👇 pic.twitter.com/l0DsiLQvlN
— ONEinEU (@ONEinEU) June 10, 2021
At the end of July, world leaders will join a major education fundraising summit to help fund GPE‘s work further. 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.