Education and COVID-19 in the Mekong Region

Education is considered a basic human right as well as a crucial component to supporting inclusive sustainable development. It is a long-term process requiring continued attendance. However, the ability of vulnerable children to continually attend school is limited by their intersecting vulnerabilities and development gaps. Even in ordinary circumstances, there are differences between the rates of completion of primary school for urban and rural students, rich and poor students, and boys and girls. Unfortunately, because of the wide range of barriers impacting vulnerable students, a school closure, even if necessary for public health reasons, may mean that vulnerable students will never return to school.1

Photo by Anshu A on Unsplash

The COVID-19 pandemic impacted already poorly functioning educational systems in the Mekong region. The choice to close schools as part of the region’s response to the pandemic has resulted in widening inequalities in accessing basic rights, with the impact disproportionately landing on vulnerable children. Previous experience with epidemics indicates that epidemics that lead to school closures create huge barriers for children returning to school, especially the most marginalized, particularly girls.2

The COVID-19 pandemic also thrust into the spotlight an issue that has not previously received much focus when considering inclusive sustainable development: inequality in access to ICT. During the pandemic, the region’s governments have made an effort to provide continuous learning despite school closures for their students via alternative, learn-at-home methods. In order to do this, a variety of ICT media have been used, primarily television, mobile phones, computers, and internet. However, the systemic issues impacting the region’s most vulnerable have limited the effectiveness and reach of these ICT-based efforts. These issues include those in the educational system itself, as well as the inequalities in development, such as poverty, access to employment, gender, and others. Together, they have directly impacted access to the basic human right of education. The pandemic has shown that the issue of unequal access to ICT connectivity and infrastructure requires more basic changes than making e-health, mobile banking, or smart grids available in developing regions. Instead, marginalized populations – predominantly rural populations – need tools like radios, televisions, and smartphones to be accessible; relevant infrastructure to be built; and for information through these channels to be provided reliably and at an affordable price.

This publication explores the issues of inequalities in accessing education through ICT services in the context of the pandemic, then offers recommendations to improve access to human rights by addressing the digital gap.

  • Section 1: COVID-19: Actions in the Mekong Region

    • Overview
    • Interventions
  • Section 2: The impact of school closures in the region

    • Overview
    • Factors adding to vulnerability: Teachers
    • Factors adding to vulnerability: Rural-urban divide
    • Factors adding to vulnerability: Gendered cultural norms
    • Impact of vulnerability factors on marginalized children
    • Impact due to COVID-19
    • Impact of inequalities related to ICT
    • The digital divide during the pandemic
    • Low ICT skill and data literacy
  • Section 3: Recommendations

    • Overview
    • Continued focus on providing a diverse set of educational offerings via a variety of media
    • Revamped school curriculum
    • Revamped teacher training
    • Working with marginalized communities to understand their needs, from their cultural perspectives and day-to-day realities
    • Addressing gendered stereotypes and beliefs


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