Letter Clowns arrive to entertain Palestinian children during a home-confinement order amid concerns about the spread of the coronavirus disease in Hebron in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, as part of corona clownery. According to a recent report by UNESCO, the COVID-19 pandemic has forced school closures in 191 countries, affecting at least 1.5 billion students and 63 million primary and secondary teachers. But more concerning are the disparities in distance education that are now beginning to appear. The report has found that half of the students currently out of the classroom – or nearly 830 million learners globally – do not have access to a computer. Additionally, more than 40 percent have no Internet access at home. These disparities are particularly evident in low-income countries and areas, such as the Israeli-occupied West Bank and the Indian Occupied Jammu and Kashmir. 

Nearly 90 percent of students in sub-Saharan Africa do not have household computers while 82 percent are unable to get online. And although having a mobile phone can support young learners, in accessing information or connecting with their teachers, for example, around 56 million live in areas that are not served by mobile networks; almost half in sub-Saharan Africa. Teachers also are struggling with the rapid transition to online learning, even those in countries with reliable infrastructure and household connectivity. They also need to be trained to deliver distance and online education. Again, countries in sub-Saharan Africa face the greatest challenges.

Related: Blessing in Disguise? Pedagogy in the Time of Corona

There is much more than science and vaccines that is needed to fight pandemic outbreaks like the COVID-19. It requires social responsibility and collective action, something that we lack in Pakistan seriously. Moazma Ashraf contends why educational reforms are crucial to fighting pandemics effectively and enabling people prepare for future disease outbreaks of this scale.