Out of School Children (OOSC) During the COVID Pandemic – Research Study Case Study

Since September 2021, Q3 strategy has been supporting Save the Children to conduct a deep dive study on Out of School Children. The SB2S study on Out of School Children (OOSC) aims to capture robust, standardised, real-time data on the number of children out of school and not returning due to the Covid-19 pandemic in Malawi and Peru. The study builds on a rapid assessment, which took place in Q1-2 2021 across six countries in total, to gather information on how many children are out of school, who they are and why. This next stage will provide a ‘deep dive’ in two countries to improve understanding of the problem in specific country level contextual circumstances.

Education is a human right and a vital component in the formation of human capital. Despite various commitments under the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and global initiatives such as Education for All, out-of-school children (OOSC) remain one of the most critical issues in education today. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in the most severe global education disruption in history. At the peak of the crisis, UNESCO data showed that over 1.6 billion learners across 190+ countries were out of school. Currently, more than 800 million learners are still affected by full or partial school closures, and it is estimated that over 100 million additional children will fall below the minimum proficiency level in reading as a result of the health crisis. The impact of the pandemic on accessibility of education disproportionately affects the most marginalised and deprived children, including young and adolescent girls, children from poor households, and children from rural areas who already had limited access to good quality education prior to onset of the pandemic. These children are at an increased risk of being left behind, and not returning to school at all. The high-level ministerial meeting convened in March 2021 clearly highlighted that prioritizing education recovery is crucial to avoid a generational catastrophe.

In particular settings the pandemic has only exacerbated pre-existing challenges around childhood and adolescent education. Prior to the pandemic it was estimated that 258 million were already out of school. Conflict-affected countries include over 20% of all children of primary school age, but in 2013 accounted around half of all out-of-school children of primary school age. The likelihood of young children dropping out of school is also significantly higher in conflict-affected countries than elsewhere in the world: only 65% of children in these countries attend the last primary school grade, in comparison to 86% across all low-income countries. Further, in low and lower-middle income countries, around 40% of children with disabilities are out of school at primary level and 55% at lower secondary level.

Healthy early childhood development provides the foundation for learning, behaviour, lifelong health, resilient communities, and successful parenting of the next generation. Each achievement occurs in the context of close relationships with the adults in their life, typically with parents or caregivers, but also with teachers and other members of the community. For instance, substantial research shows that early adversity, including directly experiencing violence, illness, poverty, child abuse and neglect are associated with brain development alterations and subsequent harmful outcomes. The latter ranges from financial challenges to diminished mental and physical health, detrimental social outcomes, and in some cases, premature death., On the other hand, positive early years experiences with responsive, dependable adults can lead to stronger development and long-term success.

There is a clear need for actors across sectors to work collaboratively and commit to realising the right to quality education for all children by ensuring that all children are able to return to school safely, and that long-term, systemic issues with the education system damaging the quality of learning are acted on to ensure that all children are able to access good quality education. In 2020, Save the Children declared the safe return to learning – and school, when safe to do so – a global priority.  Safe Back to School (SB2S) is Save the Children’s global campaign to get the most marginalised children safely back into education and to improve learning outcomes and well-being. The campaign is being delivered across three pillars: (1) delivery of programmes; (2) advocacy and policy campaigns; (3) national co-ordination and leadership. Pillar one involves a focus on reducing barriers to learning for marginalised children including girls, children with disabilities, children living in poverty and children that are displaced. 


 UNESCO. One year into COVID: prioritizing education recovery to avoid a generational catastrophe. 2021. https://unesdoc.unesco.org/ark:/48223/pf0000376984

 UNESCO (2013). Teaching and Learning: Achieving Quality for All. Education for All Monitoring Report,

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 UNICEF, Towards Inclusive Education. The impact of disability on school attendance in lower-income countries. 2016

 Fang, Xiangming, et al. “The economic burden of child maltreatment in the United States and implications for prevention.” Child abuse & neglect 36.2 (2012): 156-165.

 Metzler, Marilyn, et al. “Adverse childhood experiences and life opportunities: shifting the narrative.” Children and youth services review 72 (2017): 141-149.

 Felitti, Vincent J., et al. “Relationship of childhood abuse and household dysfunction to many of the leading causes of death in adults: The Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study.” American journal of preventive medicine 14.4 (1998): 245-258.

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