A group of former world leaders has called for action to ensure a generation of young people are not “robbed of their education” due to Covid-19.
The 275-strong group comprises of senior figures including former prime ministers Gordon Brown, Tony Blair and Sir John Major, as well as economists and educationalists from across the globe.
In a letter addressed to G20 leaders, national governments and global financial institutions, the group has warned that as many as 30 million children may never return to school as a result of the pandemic, according to Unesco.
They have also raised concerns that the world’s poorest children have been “locked out of learning” and denied internet access.
The former leaders also warned the G20 of the threat of rising child hunger with the loss of free school meals for pupils around the world.
In their letter, they wrote: “We write to call for urgent action to address the global education emergency triggered by Covid-19.
“With over 1 billion children still out of school because of the lockdown, there is now a real and present danger that the public health crisis will create a COVID generation who lose out on schooling and whose opportunities are permanently damaged.
“While the more fortunate have had access to alternatives, the world’s poorest children have been locked out of learning, denied internet access, and with the loss of free school meals – once a lifeline for 300 million boys and girls – hunger has grown.
“An immediate concern, as we bring the lockdown to an end, is the fate of an estimated 30 million children who according to UNESCO may never return to school.
“For these, the world’s least advantaged children, education is often the only escape from poverty – a route that is in danger of closing.
“Many of these children are adolescent girls for whom being in school is the best defence against forced marriage and the best hope for a life of expanded opportunity.”
The letter also outlined the danger of young children being forced into “exploitative and dangerous labour”.
It continued: “We cannot stand by and allow these young people to be robbed of their education and a fair chance in life.
“Instead we should be redoubling our efforts to get all children into school – including the 260 million already out of school and the 75 million children affected by protracted conflicts and forced displacement, including 35 million children living as refugees or internally displaced – with the comprehensive help they need, and to make it possible for young people to start or resume their studies in school, further and higher education.”
As part of its proposals, the group suggests every country should pledge to protect frontline education spending, prioritising the needs of the most disadvantaged children.
It also calls on the international community to increase aid for education, and for the International Monetary Fund to channel resources towards countries that need the most support.