Although the Covid-19 pandemic has impacted everyone to different extents, school children around the world have been one of the most negatively affected groups.

With 91% of kids globally being out of education at the height of the pandemic, it is predicted that 9.7 million of these will never go back. In this context, Save the Children’s Digital Hangouts provided a platform for students to directly speak to decision-makers and demand that global leaders save their education. This was in collaboration with the Send my Friend to School coalition who also provided training and support. Send My Friend engages children in campaigning for quality education worldwide.

Among those who took part in the Digital Hangouts were Send My Friend to School Campaign Champions Anjali and Finn, respectively aged 15 and 14, and based in the UK. They shared their experiences as students in a pandemic, expressing their concerns as well as hopes for the present and future after Covid-19. The two pupils focused on the wider inequality gap that the health crisis is creating, and will continue to create, between more and less privileged kids.

For instance, Anjali acknowledged the privilege she had to be able to access a computer and shift her learning experience online while other disadvantaged peers were unable to do the same. She also recognised the many challenges faced by women and girls because of Covid-19, explaining how these add to pre-existing concerns such as child marriage and sexual exploitation which stops many from claiming and enacting their right to an education. Due to these and other circumstances, Anjali argued that the most vulnerable and marginalised groups will be the least likely to ever go back to school.

Both Anjali and Finn highlighted the role of education for the future and how obstacles to education need to be removed to tackle the disparities present in numerous countries, including the UK.

Similarly, Finn voiced his worries about the impact of Covid-19 on the disparities between state and private education. As a state school pupil, he was not able to access a full remote timetable and was, therefore, forced to rely on worksheets from textbooks in place of face-to-face contact. What concerned Finn the most was the striking difference between his experience in state education and the very few adjustments experienced by private school kids who were able to transfer their teaching systems entirely online. Unlike their state school counterparts, they were able to maintain contact with teachers as normal and consequently the standard expected of them was the same. In Finn’s view, this will inevitably exacerbate inequalities between students across the country which will, in turn, also affect opportunities and possibilities for the future. 

Both Anjali and Finn highlighted the role of education for the future and how obstacles to education need to be removed to tackle the disparities present in numerous countries, including the UK. To them, education is precious and important to open doors and opportunities that are simply not available to every single child in the world. This made their experience with Save the Children’s Global Hangouts even more valuable as they now intend to champion and advocate for the rights of children globally. They recognise the potential for growth that education holds as it offers students the knowledge and skills required to contribute to their societies and their self-development. Finn stressed the need to think long-term and recognised the consequences of the pandemic on their children’s and grandchildren’s generations. 

The Digital Hangouts helped bridge this divide between the youngest segment of the public and politicians, empowering pupils like Finn and Anjali to express their opinions to those who hold political power.

Through the Digital Hangouts, Anjali and Finn were two among many pupils who were able to speak to ministers and make their voices heard on policy that needs to be put in place to protect and support the educational experience of kids in the UK and beyond. For Anjali, this opportunity to tell policymakers what needed to change for the better became the highlight of her summer. Similarly, Finn felt encouraged to be heard by the officials as he thought that too often they fail to consider the impact of their decisions on young people who, like him, cannot vote. In his view, the main concern for many policymakers is how their actions will affect upcoming general elections. 

The Digital Hangouts are only a starting point. Making children an integral part of the decision-making process must be the goal.

The Digital Hangouts helped bridge this divide between the youngest segment of the public and politicians, empowering pupils like Finn and Anjali to express their opinions to those who hold political power. They believe that the UK and other governments have a key role to play in helping children around the world and in working collectively to tackle injustices in global education. As Anjali stated, investing in children’s futures and safeguarding their basic human right to an education will benefit UK society, while also working towards reducing extreme poverty by 12%. 

The Digital Hangouts are only a starting point. Making children an integral part of the decision-making process must be the goal.

This piece is part of the "Democratic Response to COVID-19" series curated by Involve and the Centre for the Study of Democracy at Westminster University.

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Save the Children exists to make sure every child can fulfil their potential and change the world for good. The organisation helps children survive and thrive, so they can go on to build a better future.