PESHAWAR: Education has been hit particularly hard with 1.53 billion learners out of school and 184 country-wide school closures, impacting 87.6% of the world’s total enrolled learners.

Dropout rates across the globe are likely to rise because of this massive disruption to education access. While the focus of the COVID 19 response is mainly on health systems, the pandemic is already having a devastating impact on children beyond that. Education champions in Pakistan fear for the future of millions of children, who are currently out of school in Pakistan.

Education rights activists are concerned about the limited mechanisms in place to ensure children can follow an education from their homes. With their education interrupted and not being in a safe place such as a school, children are at a higher risk of abuse, neglect, violence and exploitation, and they, especially girls are more likely of dropping out of school completely. While some countries are better prepared to provide ‘learning at a distance’ for children during school closures, the most marginalized girls and boys living in rural areas or the suburb of the main cities will struggle to access distance learning.

Qamar Naseem, Program Coordinator Blue Veins and Education Rights Champion, said, “It is equal responsibility of the govt, CSOs and society to ensure that adolescent girls and young women do not face additional inequality and fall further behind in their education during this pandemic. We must prioritize solutions that analyze and address their specific needs and rights as part of the COVID-19 response. We should encourage initiatives that prevent barriers like the burden of care-giving, inequitable distribution of learning resources and marginalization in the home, to increase access and opportunity for girls to learn and achieve equally during COVID-19.”

Taimur Kamal, Coordinator of Pakhtunkhwa Civil Society Network, said, “Education needs to be integrated in the current response of the COVID-19 outbreak, as the future of millions of children is at stake. The disease may disappear over time, but children will continue to suffer the consequences for the rest of their lives. Govt must pay particular attention to the girls, who are more likely to face disproportionately larger burden of domestic responsibilities and drop out from schools consequently. Government must put in place mechanisms to ensure girls are not last to return schools, once institutions are reopened.”

Sana Ahmad, young girls’ rights advocate, said, “Government needs to give space to youth, particularly girls, to shape the decisions made about their education. Include them in the development of strategies and policies around school closures and distance learning based on their experiences and needs”.