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A Letter to the International Community

In addition to disrupting the economy, the COVID-19 pandemic is also derailing educational opportunities for millions of the world's poorest and most vulnerable children. If governments and multilateral organizations do not intervene immediately, the damage done today will be felt for decades to come.

LONDON – We write to call for urgent action to address the global education emergency triggered by COVID-19. With more than one billion children still out of school because of the lockdown, there is a real and present danger that the public-health crisis will create a COVID generation who loses out on schooling and whose opportunities are permanently damaged. While the more fortunate have had access to alternatives, the world’s poorest children have been locked out of learning and denied Internet access. And with the loss of free school meals – once a lifeline for nearly 400 million boys and girls – hunger has grown.

An immediate concern as we bring the lockdown to an end is the fate of an estimated 30 million children who, according to UNESCO, may never return to school. For these, the world’s least-advantaged children, education is often the only escape from poverty – a route that is in danger of closing.

Many of these children are adolescent girls for whom being in school is the best defense against forced marriage and the best hope for expanded opportunities. Many more are young children who risk being forced into exploitative and dangerous labor. And because education is linked to progress in virtually every area of human development – from child survival to maternal health, gender equality, job creation, and inclusive economic growth – the education emergency will undermine the prospects for achieving the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and potentially set back progress on gender equity by years. According to the World Bank, the long-term economic cost of lost schooling could be as much as $10 trillion.