Over 500 million children all over the world have lost access to education as a result of the lockdown occasioned by the COVID-19 pandemic, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) said on Thursday.
The IMF Managing Director, Kristalina Georgieva, said in a statement that “More than half a billion children worldwide have lost their access to education as a result of coronavirus lockdowns. Many won’t return to the classrooms after the pandemic, with girls more likely than boys to drop out.”
Georgieva also said that the pandemic, which caused a disruption to the education system of many countries, has left millions of children at the risk of learning poverty.
Learning poverty, IMF explained, is “being unable to read and comprehend a simple text by age 10.”
The IMF chief added that “Driven by poor access to quality schooling, learning poverty is already too high, especially in emerging markets and low-income nations.”
According to Georgieva, who said IMF was concerned about the long-term effects of the crisis on income and education gaps, “In our research, we looked at the link between education and inequality. A 10-point increase in a country’s Gini coefficient (with such increases observed in some economies around the time of the global financial crisis) is associated with the significantly lower educational attainment of about half a year. This could reduce lifetime earnings and cause income and opportunity gaps to become persistent across generations.”
While noting that the future could not be safeguarded without safeguarding the children, she stressed that “We need more investment in education, not just spending more on schools and distance-learning capacity, but also improving the quality of education and the access to life-long learning and re-skilling.
“These efforts can pay large dividends in terms of growth, productivity, and living standards. Simulations, based on a model reflecting an economy like Brazil, show that reducing the educational attainment gap by a quarter, relative to the OECD average, could boost economic output by more than 14 per cent.”
The IMF chief said it had become imperative for policymakers to do everything in their power to promote a more inclusive recovery, one that benefits all segments of society.
She added that the organisation’s new research, prepared jointly with the World Bank for the G20, “focuses on how to increase people’s access to opportunities, no matter who they are and where they are from. More equitable access to opportunities is associated with stronger and more sustainable growth and higher income gains for the poor. But unlocking the full potential of all individuals is not an easy task.”
While acknowledging policy measures deployed by governments to save lives and protect livelihoods, she added that “given the severity of the crisis, significant further efforts are essential. This includes taking the measures needed to avoid a scarring of the economy, including from job losses and higher inequality. It is clear that increasing access to opportunities is now more critical than ever if we are to avoid persistent increases in inequality.”