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COVID-19 impacting education of ‘millions’ of children in Myanmar

Among the countries in which ChildFund Australia manages and implements programs, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on children’s education has been the most severe in Myanmar.

Schools have been closed for almost a year, since the first cases of COVID-19 were reported in the country in March 2020. Restrictions were eased briefly at the end of July 2020, allowing students to return to school, but the respite was short-lived. The number of COVID-19 cases began to rise again towards the end of August, prompting the Myanmar government to return to restrictions on public spaces and gatherings.

“The nationwide closure of schools is impacting millions of students,” ChildFund Myanmar National Education Coordinator, PoPo Thaung Win, says.

The prolonged shutdown, says ChildFund Myanmar’s Country Director Win May, will have the greatest impact on Myanmar’s most vulnerable children, such as children living in poverty, children living with disability, girls, and those living in remote and rural areas.

“They face a great risk of dropping out and never returning to school,” Win May says.

Once schools reopen, many children in the disadvantaged communities in which ChildFund works are at risk of entering the workforce, becoming full-time labourers, or staying at home to take care of younger siblings and household chores, to help their families.

Another concern, says Win May, is the health and wellbeing of children stuck at home with nowhere to go. “Many children are becoming isolated because of the lack of social connection,” she says.

Children also face higher protection risks while schools are closed because they can no longer access essential school equipment and services such as water, sanitation and hygiene facilities, health services, protection referrals for gender-based violence and abuse, and specialised services for children with disabilities.

Rethinking education

Myanmar has had to rapidly adapt to the changing situations posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

With support from UNESCO, the Ministry of Education has developed a COVID-19 response and recovery plan to help children to continue learning during and after the pandemic. The plan looks at how schools can eventually reopen safely, and how the country’s education system can be strengthened to cope with future emergencies.

ChildFund’s non-formal literacy and numeracy classes for out-of-school children in the urban slums of Yangon have continued to operate over the past year, although at a smaller scale.

Over the past year, initiatives have been rolled out to help children in both urban and rural areas continue their education through platforms such as TV and online learning management systems.

Win May says many disadvantaged children, however, do not have access to the internet and the technology required for remote learning. “These children have not been able to learn using the remote learning platforms over the past year,” she says.

What ChildFund is doing

Children and young people make up half the population of Myanmar. It is critical they can access a quality education so they have the knowledge, skills and opportunities to change their lives, positively contribute to their communities and shape the future of their country.

In the urban slums of Yangon, ChildFund’s non-formal literacy and numeracy classes for out-of-school children have continued to operate over the past year, although at a smaller scale.

Once schools re-open, ChildFund will help run back-to-school campaigns in communities.

“ChildFund Myanmar is continuing to work with local partners on the ground to help ensure children at risk of dropping out, and who have not been able to continue learning over the past year, eventually return to school,” Win May says.

“Over the coming year, as a vaccine becomes readily available, we need to focus on the many different areas that the impact of COVID-19 has had on children. This includes education, as well as their health and wellbeing, and protection.”

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