Unicef launches learning passport as Covid threatens education of 20 million girls

Pioneering digital technology to reduce stark educational gender divide

epa09035218 Afghan children attend a class in the open due to the lack of school facilities in Sarhood district of Nangarhar provice, Afghanistan, 25 February 2021. According to UNICEF, an estimated 3.7 million children are out-of-school in Afghanistan, 60 percent of them being girls.  EPA/GHULAMULLAH HABIBI
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The coronavirus pandemic has worsened global education inequality and girls have been disproportionately affected.

It is estimated by the Global Partnership for Education that 20 million could drop out of school as a result of the pandemic, an outcome that a $25 million joint UN and World Bank initiative launched on Thursday is seeking to ease.

“Even before the pandemic, despite significant gains in enrolment in certain places, girls were at a disadvantage accessing and completing both primary and lower secondary education,” said Alice Albright, chief executive of the partnership.

“Nearly one in three adolescent girls from the poorest households have never set foot in the classroom, and 13 million more girls will be forced into early marriage by struggling parents in the coming decade.”

With two thirds of the world’s poorest countries reducing their first post-Covid education budget, compared to one third of the world's richest countries, the situation looks bleak.


Unesco, Unicef and the World Bank have unveiled a book to provide examples of approaches countries can take to alleviate the situation.

“The crisis has shown us that learning can occur anywhere, anytime, through innovative solutions,” said Unicef’s executive director, Henrietta Fore.

“We recognise that all types of solutions to deliver quality learning for girls are necessary from high tech to low tech to no tech, but … every girl needs to be digitally literate to unlock access to possibilities beyond her imagination.”

Reducing the digital divide is a vexing challenge. In low-income countries, only 6 per cent have access to the internet.


The cornerstone of Unicef’s solutions response is the learning passport, a global platform produced with Microsoft that “provides flexible online and offline learning content” in many languages.

The pioneering technology includes gender-responsive and inclusive content and is aimed at those who are traditionally the hardest to help.

“We are committed to investing in girls and identifying the most critical systemic and social barriers holding them back,” Ms Albright said.

“That is why our new strategy hardwires gender throughout all operations, including a targeted financing window to incentivise gender priorities and to achieve greater gender equality.”

The Unicef solutions book includes 22 programmes and essential information in areas such as child funding and social protection to reduce the barriers that girls face when going back to school.

It is the first salvo in a multilateral campaign that aims to raise at least $5 billion, culminating in a financing conference in the UK in July.

“If we are successful with our replenishment campaign, it will enable 46 million girls to go to school and protect two million girls from early childhood marriage,” Ms Albright said.

Global education between 1998 and 2017