UNICEF is committed to ensuring all children in South Asia have access to inclusive and equitable quality education.
While great strides have been made in improving school enrolment and completion in South Asia, more than 50 per cent of children live in learning poverty – unable to read and understand a simple text by age 10 – and 12.5 million children at the primary level and 16.5 million children at the lower secondary level are out-of-school. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic millions of children complete primary education without mastering the foundational skills of basic numeracy and literacy, let alone the 21st-century skills, required for meaningful employment, personal well-being and active participation in society. South Asia also had the highest youth population not in any form of education, employment or training (NEET) in the world (30 per cent).
Classrooms in South Asia are predominantly teacher-centred and rote-based, and many children are still subjected to corporal punishment and discrimination. In particular, in Afghanistan and Pakistan, girls face incredible hurdles to pursue their education, and across the region, they lack opportunities for finding meaningful employment. Improvements in the quality of teaching, learning, and skilling can reduce dropout rates and ensure better transitions from early childhood learning into primary and secondary education and the transition from school to the world of work.
These existing challenges in access to education and quality learning and skills have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, and the impacts of the crisis continue to disrupt the education of children and adolescents across South Asia. Since the outbreak in March 2020, school closures in South Asia have affected approximately 434 million learners. In addition, an estimated 22 million children from South Asia have missed out on early childhood education in their critical pre-school year as COVID-19 shut childcare and early education facilities.
As schools reopen in the region, we must continue strengthening education and skill-building systems and building their resilience. This includes being prepared for future reclosures and supporting quality remote learning, particularly for the most marginalized children and youth. This will require a mix of different modalities including printed materials and technology where available and a focus on remediation, formative assessment and curriculum adaptation.
UNICEF is working with governments and partners in the region to ensure 10 million previously out-of-school girls and boys in South Asia will be enrolled and learning in pre-primary, primary and secondary schools by 2021. To achieve this target, UNICEF is working to strengthen the education and skilling systems to ensure every child, including adolescents, learns and acquires skills for the future.
For families who are struggling to survive, their children’s education becomes a lesser priority. Children from poor families are most likely to leave school, never to return. This reality has only been heightened due to the pandemic. UNICEF is committed to working with regional governments to increase financing of education programmes to reach such children. We utilize an evidence-based approach to advocate and lead the development of policies, analyse key drivers of change, and identify key knowledge gaps.
UNICEF is supporting countries in South Asia to build back better, and more resilient education and training systems impacted by the COVID-19 crisis. This means not only resuming services but seizing the opportunity to reimagine education, harnessing technology and new partnerships and approaches to learning. This includes closing the digital divide and increasing access to digital learning solutions and connectivity, to support the most marginalized children and youth with the skills they need for a brighter future.
UNICEF builds regional partnerships with both public and private entities – with South Asia Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC), UN agencies, development partners, think tanks, civil society organizations, the media, the private sector and other key stakeholders – to encourage political commitment and increase the accountability of governments to work on programmes that ensure every child is learning. We facilitate cooperation across the region to advocate, train and share knowledge on how best to improve education and training systems.
UNICEF is also leveraging global initiatives like Generation Unlimited, which is a multi-sectoral partnership platform that ensures young people acquire the right skills they need to succeed in the 21st century world of work and be productive and engaged members of their communities.
Safe reopening of schools in South Asia
For recommendations, resources and tools to help guide the safe reopening of schools and return to learning, please visit our Safe School Reopening resource page.