Back to school

Nairobi, January 2021

After a year without going to school, no one has any idea how many girls and boys actually returned to class in January. According to some international aid agencies such as ACAPS and Save the Children, between 10 and 20 million students have not returned to school, with a clear prevalence of girls. An entire generation lost to knowledge, to emancipation.

Since March 2020, the closure of schools and universities has affected 1.5 billion students worldwide, an unprecedented number. However, we must distinguish between those who have had the opportunity to continue participating in online lessons and those who have not had any learning opportunities for a year.

Here in Kenya, the socio-economic difficulties and inequalities further accentuated by the pandemic have created situations that are sometimes different in rural areas and in urban suburbs. In the villages, girls not going to school, where a meal was often provided, have become a burden on increasingly impoverished families. As a result, there has been an increase in early marriages, and a return to the practice of female genital mutilation. In the slim of megalopolises, the children at home from school living on the street have entered more easily into the circle of petty crime and labor exploitation. Many teenagers left without school protection and nutrition have been involved in survival prostitution. Shortages of food and work have only increased malnutrition and domestic violence. There has been a dramatic increase in abuse and pregnancies among the teenager. Schools are generally protected places, where there are programs of nutrition, health education, reduction of gender violence. School attendance has always been higher, especially in schools where a meal is guaranteed. Schools are also often chosen centers for vaccination campaigns. The long months of closure interrupted the vaccination cycles. There is an indispensable connection between health and education, between mental and nutritional health. Traditional academic subjects are no longer enough, but it becomes essential to teach reproductive health, self-esteem, the ability to communicate, to enforce and defend one's rights. We know well in the most degraded suburbs how much a decent home, family serenity, regular nutrition affect students' learning. Staying healthy in order to learn more, relate better, have more knowledge to be freer and have a future with more opportunities.

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