Like millions of other children, Mia Sulastri has been making extra efforts to keep up with her learning progress. When her school in Indonesia was closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the 17-year-old girl rode a motorcycle 24 kilometers four times a week to find a phone signal to receive messages from the teacher and reply to her via email Homework.
Mia was one of hundreds of students, parents, and teachers that Human Rights Watch interviewed in 60 countries in the past year to understand how they worked hard to continue their studies during the COVID-19 school closure.
We have heard time and again that children—often avoiding the more severe symptoms of COVID-19—have to sacrifice the education they deserve. School closures are part of a public effort to help protect the health of family members, friends, teachers, and community members and save their lives.
This is a trade-off, and students are usually willing but still at a loss.
We have also heard that before the pandemic, the government failed to provide adequate public services, or failed to welcome and accommodate all students in school, which made the pandemic’s impact on children’s education even more serious.
A 14-year-old girl in Lebanon told us that her English teacher canceled online courses almost every time because of lack of electricity. Lebanon has been unable to reform its dilapidated power system for a long time, so those who cannot afford private generators cannot obtain reliable electricity.
The principal of a school that is dominated by Alaska Native students said that she has the best Internet plan in the community and costs $315 a month. “I can start loading a web page and sweep the floor while waiting for the page to load,” she said. “I think that unless the Internet infrastructure is better, online learning will never become an option.”
A second-year teacher in Germany said that her school has been investing in technology for a long time. “Then it was announced that Skype would be installed on school computers,” she said. “It turns out that the school computer does not have a camera, so the topic is over.”
In contrast, a teacher at a private middle school in São Paulo, Brazil called it “very privileged.” He said he has been teaching on digital platforms for five years: “In my world, things are simple.”
The pandemic did not cause these problems or inequalities, but only exacerbated their consequences.
Governments have solid evidence to show which children were disproportionately excluded from school before the pandemic—usually girls, poor children, disabled children, or children living in war zones. However, these same children are particularly severe under the impact of school closures.
The Ugandan government was supposed to provide a 14-year-old boy with 12 years of free education. He told us that he was selling biscuits on the streets of the Ugandan capital to save on school fees. His family financial situation was hit by the pandemic.
The Armenian government should have predicted that for the 14-year-old hard-of-hearing boy whose mother we talked to, it would be difficult to read the sign language on the seven-part mobile phone screen in the Zoom course.
The British government should have paid more attention to ensuring that children living in poor families eat the staple food for a day in school and will not go hungry during the pandemic school closure.
The Iraqi father was right. He said that it was not his 15-year-old son’s fault that he could not write his name-displaced persons living with their families after the school was forcibly closed by Islamic State (Islamic State) extremists for many years and without internal education in the camp. .
With the launch of the COVID-19 vaccine with the hope of finally ending school closures related to the pandemic, it is clear that simply getting things back to the original state is not enough and reckless.
So many students have been working hard. The government needs to fulfill its responsibilities. They should improve, alleviate and correct the long-standing structural inequalities in educational opportunities, the availability of free secondary education, and the accessibility of virtual or actual classroom learning.
They need to track children who did not return to the classroom when the school reopened and give them a reason to return, just as they should for those children who did not go to school even before the school closed. Governments should provide all children with completely free primary and secondary education. They should eliminate inequality in access to electricity.
They need to stop hesitating, recognize that the Internet is now essential for children’s education, and expand affordable access to the Internet. They need to end child marriage, which is the main obstacle to girls’ education. They need to build an education system to welcome and tolerate children with disabilities who are indigenous, refugees, or living in poverty or war zones.
Reopening the classroom door is only the beginning.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.