Let’s get the class of 2021 safely back to school.
Starting on June 1st and for 100 Days, Save the Children, our supporters, partners and children themselves will take action to push education to the top of world leaders’ agendas.
18th March 2020. That was the last day that my two children - then aged 6 and 9 - skipped off to school before the pandemic closures kicked in. ‘It’ll be 2 or 3 weeks and they’ll be back’ I remember telling myself, emphatically. In reality, my children and their classmates attended school ‘in person’ for just 11 weeks of the whole year between March 2020 and March 2021.
For myself and my partner, the juggle of supporting children to learn at home, while holding down busy full time jobs was - *stressful* - to say the least. A flick through my Facebook feed was filled with similar stories from parents from every corner of the world - united in our collective experience of trying to do our best for our children, while holding together ‘everything else’. In fact, at the peak of the pandemic over 1.5 billion children were out of school, and still today hundreds of millions of children are still not in school as a result of ongoing school closures. And, as every mum or dad knows, school is not just about maths and english - it’s also a place to play with friends and eat a good meal; a place where children’s wellbeing is looked after; for many, school is a safe haven.
My ‘stressful’ experience of home schooling was soon brought into sharp focus a few days later, in a conversation with my colleague in West Africa. He described that children dropping out of school there as a result of the pandemic meant young boys were more likely to join armed militia, and girls were falling pregnant or being forced into early marriage. I took a breath. It didn’t take much to realise my son and daughter will never face such horrors. We are the lucky ones. Many millions of children are unlikely to ever return to school as a result of the economic impact of the pandemic.
And even for those who have made it back, it’s the most vulnerable children - wherever they are in the world - who have missed out most learning and need most support as they return. I’m deeply aware that many children do not have the secure home, strong internet connection and family laptop that my two were able to benefit from.
Fast forward a year - and today, while the pandemic is still sadly raging in many parts of the world, there is more to be positive about. But as the world responds to Covid, are we really prioritising what our children need? Are governments around the world doing all they can to support schools safely re-opening, and helping the most vulnerable children to get back to learning? The answer in short is a no. Not yet. In too many countries education budgets continue to shrink; as governments and donors have to make hard choices about spending there’s a real risk children’s education suffers even more. But, with the right pressure we can change that.
Governments must do three simple things:
- We need real leaders determined to dream big for children everywhere. Presidents and Prime Ministers who will listen to children and keep good learning going while schools still need to be closed
- We need Education Ministers who are ready to draw up clear roadmaps to bring children safely back to school when the time is right, and build forward better learning systems for the future
- We need Finance Ministers who know that investing in children’s education now is an investment in our societies as a whole, critical to recovery from the pandemic.
In June and July there are two key global conferences - the G7 from 11-13 June and the Global Partnership for Education Replenishment Conference from 28-29 July - where decisions and commitments about education will be made. Governments across the world must hear loud and clear from children directly - and from you - a clear message that they must push education to the top of the agenda and take bold, ambitious action.
On 1 June, children led the way in raising their voices and demanding action from governments to prioritise education. Thousands of children in over 50 countries used art to campaign, met with their local leaders, even the President in Kosovo, spoke to the media, organised virtual events and made sure that their voices were heard.
A call to action to my fellow parents
So where children are leading, we need to follow. To all my fellow parents around the world who have, for the first time, experienced the reality of our kids being out of school, take a moment to make sure our leaders keep focussing on getting every child into school. Please get involved in #100DaysofAction. The action you take is up to you; so whether it’s writing a letter to a local MP, creating a banner, dressing up as a favourite book character or writing a poem – we’re asking you to take part in fun and engaging activities you can do with your families and children then share it. Follow #100DaysofAction on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram to follow the activities you can do with your families and children. And check out our 100 Days of ACTION website to follow what parents and children are doing around the world.
With political will and imagination, our elected leaders can offer every child a chance to experience the power of learning, to grow up safe and protected, and play their part in building a better post-pandemic world.
Together, we can pressure decision-makers to save education and protect a generation of children. Join us and act together to get the class of 2021 safely back to school.