will France really help to restart schools in the South?

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In an empty classroom at the Ithute Primary School in the Alexandra neighborhood of Johannesburg on June 1, 2020. The partial reopening of schools has been postponed until June 8.
In an empty classroom at the Ithute Primary School in the Alexandra neighborhood of Johannesburg on June 1, 2020. The partial reopening of schools has been postponed until June 8. LUCA SOLA / AFP

Grandstand. The risk that the temporary interruption of learning will become permanent jeopardizes the future of a generation. School closings deprive many children and youth of access to essential services and have significant psychosocial impacts.

If all learners are affected, the most marginalized populations are the hardest hit: girls and young women, low-income families, learners living without parents, in rural areas or with no access to care, refugees, people with disabilities.

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The combination of health, food and education crisis could have devastating effects on already fragile generations. The continuity of the right to education is an essential anchor for the maintenance of social rights as a whole.

Alternative distance learning methods have been developed. However, they often prove to be insufficient: digital divide, poor parents, lack of teacher training. In addition, companies are taking advantage of the alarming context to offer paid for-profit educational services at the risk of increasing inequalities and, in the long term, of a strong involvement of the commercial sector in poorly endowed education systems.

Not up to ambitions

There is an urgent need to act to strengthen these public educational services so as not to feed a circle of extreme poverty which would become fatal thereafter.

We welcome France’s significant commitments to education in developing countries since 2018, including its € 200 million contribution to the Global Partnership for Education. However, we stress the importance of the imbalance that persists within aid to education and requires renewed efforts, all the more serious in view of the current crisis which is seriously shaking education systems.

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In our new report French aid to education: mixed progress, we note that aid to education, as currently distributed, is not up to the stated ambitions of France or of the importance that our leaders say they attach in their declarations to this essential public sector, both nationally and internationally.

In 2018, France devoted only 29% of its aid to education to the countries of sub-Saharan Africa and 5% to the countries of the Sahel which are going through an alarming educational crisis. Support for basic education systems represents only 16% of bilateral aid to education in the countries of sub-Saharan Africa and 34% in the countries of the Sahel.

Support strong public services

And with a French contribution of $ 2.3 million to Education Cannot Wait (multilateral fund dedicated to education in crisis contexts) since 2016, France’s commitment is not up to the challenges of the education in humanitarian emergencies and post-emergencies. The role of education is fundamental to respond to this crisis but also to prepare for the aftermath.

The crisis recalls the importance of supporting strong public services and the continuous links between education and health, hygiene, food, water, sanitation, prevention, social protection and childhood, sexual and reproductive health rights.

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Do we have to remember that, if all women completed primary education in the world, this would lead to a 49% drop in the number of child deaths, that in regions where the transmission rate is high, the risk of being carrier of the malaria parasites is 36% lower in children whose mother has attended secondary school (Unesco).

In order for French aid to education to meet basic and urgent educational needs, France must allocate more resources to fragile education systems. This is to strengthen their capacity to anticipate crises and resilience and to avoid learning gaps for the most vulnerable populations.

Promote alternative models

France must prioritize education in sub-Saharan African countries and crisis contexts, including through a contribution of 40 million euros to the Education Cannot Wait fund which aims to mobilize $ 1.8 billion by 2021 to reach 9 million children and young people in countries affected by crises.

We need to think systemically about crises and the post-crisis. This means continuously assessing, analyzing the educational actions and policies implemented in the context of Covid-19 and, in doing so, involving civil society, children and young people in this process.

It is also about promoting alternative, innovative and effective learning models that ensure the continuity of quality education, a protective learning environment and the hope of a better future for more marginalized during and after emergencies.

Education systems must be built in anticipation of possible crises (conflicts, climate change, etc.). On the other hand, an intersectoral and well-coordinated response with the actors concerned is essential.

More than ever, the current lack of investment puts entire generations at risk. In order to limit the disastrous effects of Covid-19, France must step up its aid to education for education systems in sub-Saharan Africa, primarily for basic education and in contexts of crisis and fragility where investments remain good below the needs of the populations.

The Education Coalition brings together twenty French civil society organizations: trade unions, international solidarity associations, NGOs defending the right to education and popular education organizations.

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