Research Spotlight

Gendered Effects of COVID-19 School Closures

The rapid spread of COVID-19 in early 2020 led to worldwide school closures, affecting over one billion students. School closures disproportionately impact girls and those living in communities that are already marginalized and affected by conflict. 

The indirect and long-term effects of school closures reach beyond educational attainment. School attendance may be protective against child marriage, child labor, or exploitative sexual relationships. Long-term school closures or limitations on education and training opportunities, coupled with economic challenges, may convince parents and caregivers that marriage for their daughters or employment for their sons are effective strategies to secure safety or household livelihoods.

To better understand the effect of COVID-related school closures on education, health, nutrition, and well-being among school-aged children and adolescents, the Population Council’s GIRL Center conducted a global study on the gendered impact of COVID-19 school closures. 

Researchers reviewed evidence on school closures, national school responses to COVID-19, shifts to non-formal education solutions, and plans and recommendations for school systems post-COVID-19. 

The study included an analysis of published research, a large-scale survey of organizations focused on gender equality in education, and data from local communities in Bangladesh, Côte d’Ivoire, Kenya, Mali and Pakistan. 

The evidence informs promising practices to ensure continuity of learning; equitable and safe access to basic school services; support to health, nutrition, and well-being, including prevention of early and unintended pregnancy, and protection from violence and harmful practices; and return to education, particularly among people most marginalized.

The results can be used by UN agencies and other global leaders, national and local governments, advocates, and local implementing partners to inform their response plans, policies, and programs to recover from the pandemic and prepare for future crises. 

The GIRL Center partnered with UNESCO’s Global Education Gender Flagship who commissioned the study.

GIRL Center Research Briefs on the Gendered Effects of COVID-19 School Closures

The Bangladesh case study summarizes the impact in rural communities. It clarifies issues of remote learning access, management, and monitoring, as well as new strains on students’ time use. It also reveals general impacts on mental and physical health, economic status, as well as gendered effects including child marriage. Based on evaluations of mitigation measures, recommendations for comprehensive policies, provision of technical, financial, and social support, and improvements in education systems emerged.

The India case study assesses the impact on education, health, well-being, and protection of adolescents. Based on surveys and interviews in Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, findings point to the digital divide for girls as well as shared barriers to effective remote learning. Informed by the evidence, the study presents recommendations to scale up efforts to improve remote learning, reduce digital divide and strengthen teacher support, with a particular attention to addressing gendered differences.

The Kenya case study finds that COVID-19 school closures escalated education inequalities especially for girls and young people in rural areas. These closures exacerbated adolescent mental health issues, food and economic insecurity, and experiences of violence. COVID-19 response programs implemented by both the Government of Kenya and non-state actors were not able to fully mitigate the impacts of school closures for adolescents, teachers, or schools. Continued efforts to understand the implications of school closures and to support vulnerable students are needed.

The Pakistan case study summarizes the impact on adolescent girls and boys in three districts in the province of Punjab in Pakistan. Data as well as discussions and interviews with adolescents, teachers, and parents shed light on difficulties in accessing and adjusting to remote learning, learning loss, deterioration of behaviors and health, and other effects. Based on these findings and further reflections by stakeholders on the successes and gaps of mitigation measures, the case study proposes recommendations for improved teacher training, digital access, alternative learning options, and a gendered focus in interventions.