• New analysis from the International Rescue Committee (IRC) finds widening education and digital access gaps among children in humanitarian settings stemming from COVID-19.

  • Education remains one of the least-funded sectors in humanitarian response, with a current COVID-19 funding gap of $135 million.

  • School closures are impacting refugee girls harder than boys, with more than half not expected to return.

As children in wealthier countries begin to head back to a different model of school or continue remote learning, a new analysis from the IRC finds continued disruptions for children within humanitarian settings, leading to widening gaps in accessing quality education. Prior to COVID-19, 250 million school-aged children were out of school, with the majority of those impacted living in fragile and conflict-affected contexts. COVID-19 has further widened this divide, with 86% of children in developing countries at the primary school level no longer having access to education, compared to 20% in developed countries[1].

As schools in fragile states remain closed, and as the economic impacts of COVID-19 continue to take their toll on families, children are at a higher risk of dropping out of school altogether.  The consequences are even more dire for girls, who face additional risks of exploitation, early marriage, pregnancy, and child labor. Estimates suggest more than half of all refugee girls will not return when schools open[2]. Those without access to digital technology are disproportionately affected by COVID-19 as they cannot transition from the classroom to online learning. A recent analysis found less than one-quarter of low-income countries are providing any form of remote instruction[3]. Moreover, remote learning options available to children in wealthier contexts are impossible in humanitarian settings given limited access to the Internet. In the least-developed countries, only two in ten households have access to the Internet[4].

Education remains critically underfunded in humanitarian settings, receiving less than 3% of aid annually, and prior to COVID-19, faced an $8.5 billion annual deficit[5]. Despite increased international attention to the loss of learning stemming from COVID-19, this has yet to change. The Global Humanitarian Response Plan for COVID-19 calls for a mere 4% of the $10.26 billion appeal to go to education. As of August, only $277 million of the $403 million requested has been provided for education programs--a $135 million gap for the rest of this year alone[6]

“While the global scale of this crisis is unprecedented, interruptions to education and threats to children’s learning are commonplace in countries affected by crisis,” said Sarah Smith, senior director, education, International Rescue Committee. “But we know that children and their families are inherently resilient, and we now have an opportunity to work together to transform business as usual and provide quality, innovative learning opportunities in the most challenging contexts on earth. By getting creative in how children access learning and ensuring the most vulnerable children are included in all educational plans that take into account their unique experiences and varying degrees of digital access, we can lessen the disruptions and build better systems that work for all children.”

Given the lack of Internet in many humanitarian contexts, the IRC has designed tailored response plans to help mitigate the loss of learning brought on by school closures:

Innovative solutions are available to reach crisis-affected children, but they require financing and political will. Host governments must ensure refugees and other displaced populations are included within national education initiatives, both while schools remain closed and when they do reopen. Donors must fund the global appeal for education, and provide multiyear, flexible financing to partner organizations supporting education during and after this challenging time for those who risk being left even further behind.