Prolonged COVID-Induced School Closure Poses Threat To Gender Equality: UNSECO

New Delhi: Prolonged closure of schools due to the COVID-19 pandemic has not only affected the education system but also poses a threat to gender equality, a UNESCO study has observed.

The global study, titled ‘When schools shut: Gendered impacts of COVID-19 school closures’ has revealed that girls and boys, young women and men were differently affected by shutdown of school.

“At the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, 1.6 billion students in 190 countries were affected by school closures. Not only did they lose access to education, but also to the myriad benefits of attending school, at an unparalleled scale,” said UNESCO’s Assistant Director-General for Education Stefania Giannini.

“Educational disruption of this extent has alarming effects on learning loss and school dropout. Beyond this, it poses threats to gender equality, including effects on health, wellbeing and protection that are gender-specific,” Giannini pointed out.

Based on in-depth data and evidence gathered from 90 countries, the report says that gender norms and expectations can affect ability to participate in and benefit from remote learning.

Also Read: Pandemic & Rising Inequality: Sign Of The Times To Come

Girls’ study time was compromised by increased household chores, especially in poorer households, while boys’ learning was limited by income-generating activities, said the report. Girls also faced difficulties in engaging in digital remote learning modalities in many contexts because of limited access to internet-enabled devices, lack of digital skills and cultural norms, restricting their use of technological devices, the report observed.

The digital gender divide, already a concern before COVID-19, has deteriorated.

“The in-depth studies on Bangladesh and Pakistan in the global report revealed its gendered effects on remote learning during school closures. In the study on Pakistan, only 44 per cent of girls in participating districts reported owning mobile phones for their personal use, whereas 93 per cent of boys did so. Girls who did not own mobile phones reported that they relied on their relatives’ devices, typically those belonging to their fathers,” the report said.

“While some of the girls were able to use family members’ phones, they were not always able to do so. Their access was restricted since some parents were concerned that providing girls with access to smartphones would lead to misuse and could result into romantic relationships.”

Data revealed that from April to September 2020, share of girls who reported they did not study at all increased from 1 to 10 per cent. Hence, the longer “girls were out of school, the higher was risk of learning loss.”

The report made recommendations on how to overcome gender-based barriers for participation in remote learning.

“To advance equal access to gender-responsive and inclusive remote learning, it is recommended to provide a range of remote learning options including low-tech and no-tech solutions spearhead and support efforts to reach the most at-risk learners design, develop gender-responsive educational resources and tools besides providing appropriate teacher support and training use formative assessments to track learning outcomes,” it said.

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