COVID-19: Are children able to continue learning during school closures?

Resource type
COVID-19: Are children able to continue learning during school closures?
New York
Short Title

Key messages

In response to the unprecedented educational challenges created by school closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic, governments around the world responded quickly and have designed remote learning policies that have the potential to reach more than a billion students.

Yet at least 463 million students worldwide have been cut off from education:

  • More than 90 per cent of ministries of education enacted some form of policy to provide digital and broadcast remote learning.
  • At the global and regional levels, most students (about 70 per cent) have assets at home that would allow them to learn remotely via digital or broadcast classes.
  • But at least 31 per cent of schoolchildren worldwide cannot be reached by remote learning programs, mainly due to a lack of necessary household assets or policies geared toward their needs.
  • And 40 per cent of countries did not provide remote learning opportunities at the pre-primary level of education.

Reasons for the limited reach of remote learning policies vary:


  • Limited focus on pre-primary education:


      • Only 60 per cent of ministries provided remote learning policies for pre-primary education. Almost 70 per cent of students attending pre-primary education prior to the school closures do not have any access to digital or broadcast remote learning opportunities.


  • Regional discrepancies:


      • The share of students who cannot be reached by digital and broadcast remote learning policies is the highest in the countries of Sub-Saharan Africa: at least 48 per cent in West and Central Africa and 49 per cent in Eastern and Southern Africa.


  • Rurality and poverty:


      • Around the world, over 70 per cent of students who cannot be reached live in rural areas and over three-quarters come from the poorest 40 per cent of households.


  • Huge variations between and within countries: 


    • Unsurprisingly, digital and broadcast remote learning have a higher potential reach in wealthier countries than in poorer ones, as well as in wealthier and/or urban segments of the population. The digital and broadcast remote learning coverage in low- and middle-income countries varies significantly, from almost zero per cent to 100 per cent.

Although remote learning policies were originally designed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, they can be used as a way to deliver education even after schools reopen. 

The following actions are needed to ensure the world’s children can continue to learn:

  1. Democratize access to safe and secure remote learning for all children and young people. Remote learning programs need to be designed around modalities that are accessible to all children and adapted for households that do not have access to broadcast or digital media.
  2. Modernize the infrastructure and delivery methods used by education systems and produce accessible resources based on the national curriculum. These vital improvements will make education systems stronger and more robust and can enrich learning opportunities for all children – including the estimated 258 million who are out of school – whether schools are open or not.
  3. Identify the best combination of remote learning policies, develop and provide quality education content, and invest in infrastructure that will help reach marginalized children by supporting remote learning in remote and rural areas.
  4. Support and train teachers and parents to effectively manage remote ‘virtual’ classrooms and help children learn at home, at all levels of education including pre-primary. Blended learning approaches that combine in-person and remote instruction will be critical.
  5. Address the social and gender norms that in many countries prevent children – especially girls – from using computers and online learning to their maximum potential.
  6. Invest in innovation that supports real-time monitoring of remote learning, including formative learning assessments.


United Nations Children’s Fund. (2020). COVID-19: Are children able to continue learning during school closures? UNICEF.