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Five things you need to know this week about global education (April 09, 2020)

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Our news roundup is dominated again by coronavirus - including a call by Theirworld and global organisations to increase education funding.

Global group including Theirworld calls for increased funding for education

Theirworld is among a group of 25 organisations who have called for increased funding for education as a core part of the world's response to the coronavirus crisis.

That includes a plea for $50 million in new funding for Education Cannot Wait (ECW) - the fund for education in emergencies. ECW already operates in more than 30 countries to address the urgent education needs of 75 million children and youth in conflict and crisis settings.

The fund says an initial $50 million of extra funding will be needed to respond to the coronavirus-related education needs for the next three months. The money will help to ensure children continue to learn, as well as raising awareness of health risks.

The group of civil society organisations - including Save the Children and Plan International - said in a statement: "By making specific, measurable commitments and swiftly delivering increased funding for ECW, we can take significant steps to minimise the impact of Covid-19 on all crisis-affected and displaced children and youth seeking a quality education."

More than 1.5 billion children and youth - over 90% of the world's student population - are affected by school closures due to the pandemic. Students already vulnerable and affected by crises - including armed conflicts, forced displacement and natural disasters - are now facing added hardship.

An initial assessment by ECW shows millions of children will not be able to access learning because of a lack of digital tools.

Girls are particularly at risk of dropping out of school permanently. So ECW is taking steps to ensure that 60% of all students benefiting from its investments are female. The fund is also committed to the inclusion of children with disabilities and providing an accessible and inclusive response to leave no one behind.

The full list of signatories to the call for action is: ActionAid, Care International, Children in Crisis, Christian Blind Mission, Concern, Finn Church Aid. Finnish Refugee Council, Global Campaign for Education-US, Global Citizen, Humanity & Inclusion, International Rescue Committee, Jesuit Refugee Service, Malala Fund, Mercy Corps, Norwegian Refugee Council, ONE, Oxfam, Plan International, Right to Play, Save the Children, The RET, Theirworld, UNICEF USA, War Child, World Vision International.

South Asia children in danger of dropping out of education

Millions of children in South Asia whose schooling is affected by the pandemic are in danger of dropping out of the education system, the UN children's agency UNICEF has warned.

The region - which includes Afghanistan, India, Pakistan and Bangladesh - already had 95 million children out of school. Now 430 million children have had their schools shut down by the health crisis.

“We are concerned that prolonged school closures could hit girls and the most vulnerable, including those with disabilities the hardest. Girls are often obliged to take care of household chores and look after siblings,” said Jim Ackers, Regional Education Adviser at UNICEF’s Regional Office for South Asia.

South Asia faces major challenges in continuing education at home through online learning. Only 33% of the people in the region have access to the internet - and access to radio and television is also limited in some parts.

Countries plan to reopen some schools

Denmark and Norway have announced they are planning to let young children return to schools that have been closed by the coronavirus crisis. Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg said schools from grade 1-4 will start classes from April 27.

“Our ambition is for all students to be able to return to school, in one way or another, before the summer holidays,” said Solberg.

Denmark will reopen day cares and schools for children in first to fifth grade from April 15, if the numbers of coronavirus cases and deaths remain stable, said Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen.

But the Indonesian capital Jakarta will impose large-scale social restrictions including the closure of schools and workplaces. The country had resisted lockdown measures until now.

UN advises on school meals challenge

The UN has given advice to countries on how to continue delivering school meals to children whose schools are closed during the coronavirus pandemic.

A joint guidance note from three agencies covers how to take short-term measures to support, transform or adapt school feeding programmes to ensure more than 350 million children get the nutrition they need.

The advice comes from the World Food Programme, UNICEF and the Food and Agriculture Organization. It includes measures like providing food baskets delivered to homes or central collection points, giving cash or vouchers to families and working with local famers to deliver fresh food.

"It is difficult to predict how long school closures will last, so the health, food security and nutrition of the most vulnerable children must be prioritised," said the agencies.

Tanzania to let pregnant girls sit exams

Thousands of pregnant girls will be able to attend school in Tanzania as part of a $500 million World Bank loan which had been delayed for years due to the country's ban on expectant students.

About 5,500 pregnant girls drop out of school each year in Tanzania, the World Bank said. The project will enable them to attend alternative education centres to sit their exams and later return to state schools.

President John Magufuli drew criticism from activists and donors in 2017 when he voiced support for a ban on pregnant girls and teenage mothers in state schools, which dates back to 1961, describing their behaviour as "immoral".

"It is the first time the government of Tanzania has publicly announced in an official state document that it will include pregnant girls in secondary school education," said Judy Gitau, regional coordinator for Equality Now Africa.

Last week Sierra Leone overturned a ban on pregnant girls attending school in a victory for human rights activists who had fought against it for five years.