One of the most serious consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic has been the disruption of children’s education worldwide with the closure of schools for public health reasons. Projections from UNESCO Institute for Statistics show that nearly 100 million children across eight age cohorts would move below the minimum proficiency threshold in reading in 2020 due to the pandemic (UNESCO Institute for Statistics, 2021).
This report presents information collected in the scope of the Lusophone Network for the Right to Education (ReLus) on the situation of guaranteeing the right to education during the moment of emergency caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. It is launched as part of the Brazilian Action Week for Education 2021 and intends to present a comparative exploratory study on the challenges faced in the context of different Portuguese-speaking countries and the emergency policies adopted.
In our last article, we addressed the impact of Covid-19 on students' mental health. We highlighted how financial struggles increase the risk of mental health issues, and the ways in which the Covid-19 pandemic has deepened students’ precarity.
The Covid-19 pandemic has impacted the access to higher education in numerous ways, some of them indirect. Students encounter difficulties such as mental health or precarity issues that result indirectly from the health crisis and the measures taken by governments.
A major innovation brought about by globalization within higher education is the increase in academic mobility. Every year, millions of students cross borders to access higher education, or to discover a new way of learning. This experience full of autonomy and novelty pushes their self-development and opens doors to other cultures.
While the Covid-19 pandemic has raised many difficulties for all students in terms of access to higher education online, coping with mental health issues, and escaping economic precarity, those in their first year face particular obstacles. Indeed, this group has faced exacerbated challenges.
Access to a reliable internet connection has become increasingly important over the last year, as much of day to day life switched from in person to online as the pandemic raged through the world. Yet many students have struggled with technical issues since the onset of Covid 19, with existing inequalities further entrenched by this variable digital access.
For Quentin, a first year student on the Master of Information and Communication programme at the Catholic Institute of Paris, internet connectivity and digital learning have proved significant issues in his ability to study. At the beginning of the academic year, Quentin was living in his parents’ place in a small town (Saint Martin) of the Val d’Oise (around 3 000 inhabitants), only 30km away from Paris. In early September, his faculty’s administration announced that they would alternate on-campus and online classes every other week. At first, this arrangement seemed fine; when he felt isolated during the week with online classes, he thought about the week to come where he would be on campus. He first lived this time quite happily, alternating one week with long journeys to the campus and one week at home. Mid-october, this nice arrangement came to an end because of the second lockdown. All in all, he had had 5 weeks of in-person classes by mid-october, when classes went on a full online system. The real challenges were yet to come. The move to online teaching had strong consequences for Quentin, in terms of access to higher education, quality of teaching, but also social isolation.
Technical and connection issues
The Covid 19 crisis has challenged all aspects of daily life. Ensuring the fundamental missions of higher education systems can continue is part of these challenges. The lives of students have changed, new issues have emerged and new practices have developed.
The COVID-19 pandemic and the responses of States thereto have had a very significant impact on the enjoyment of a wide range of social rights. The Council of Europe’s European Social Charter provides a framework for the measures that must be taken by States Parties to cope with the pandemic as it unfolds. The treaty also provides a necessary framework for the post-pandemic social and economic recovery as well as for preparation for and responses to possible future crises of this nature.
The National Campaign for Education Nepal (NCE), a national education coalition of 409 civil society organizations, has been working at the national and grassroots level on the implementation of the Abidjan Principles since their adoption in February 2019. In the context of COVID-19, more than 2,500 stakeholders including policy makers have been sensitised on the need to regulate the private actors during the pandemic, and the importance of the State obligations with regard to strengthening public education.