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Navigating the “New Normal” for African Schools

The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted the education of millions of students in Africa, with girls, the poor, and children in rural areas facing the biggest risks. The only way to avert a sharp rise in inequality and malnutrition is to get children back into the continent's classrooms.

ABIDJAN – Khadidiatou Fall, a 15-year-old Senegalese girl, was desperate to get back to school. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, hers was closed for most of last year. Though it offered online classes, limited internet access in Rufisque, her small hometown, meant she often missed important lessons. Her chances of making the most of her education were slipping away.

Khadidiatou is one of millions of African students whose education has been disrupted by the pandemic. Many African countries took early steps to contain the COVID-19 pandemic, including closing schools. Using Oxford tracking data, the latest African Economic Outlook from the African Development Bank (AfDB)reports that 50% of African countries announced school restrictions within three days of the first confirmed cases of COVID-19. Within a month, all of them had done so.

Between February 16 and December 1, 2020, schools in Africa were closed for more than 100 days, on average. While the actual figure was much lower in some countries (below 50 in Madagascar, Benin, and Zambia), it was much higher in others (over 200 in Ethiopia and Uganda). On a regional basis, schools in southern Africa were closed for the fewest days (85), and schools in East Africa were closed for the most (137).