he result is the “biggest global education emergency of our time,” according to the aid group Save the Children, which last month identified 48 countries, including Uganda, whose school systems are at extreme or high risk of collapse.

Dressed in his school uniform, Mathias Okwako jumped into the mud and started his daily search for gold, a commodity that may be closer to his grasp than another precious asset: an education.

His rural school in Uganda sits idle just across the road from the swamp where he and scores of children now work as informal miners. Weeds grow in some classrooms, where window frames have been looted for firewood. Another school nearby is renting out rooms to tenants, the AP reports.

Uganda’s schools have been fully or partially shut for more than 77 weeks because of the coronavirus pandemic, the longest disruption anywhere in the world, according to figures from the U.N. cultural agency.

And unlike many parts of the globe, where lessons moved online, most public schools, which serve the vast majority of children in this East African country, were unable to offer virtual schooling.

In the void left, some students got married. Some are dealing with unwanted pregnancies. Others, like 17-year-old Okwako, found jobs.

The pandemic has manufactured “outcasts,” a lost generation of learners now “in a battle of how to fit in,” said Moses Mangeni, an official with the local government in Busia, where Okwako lives.

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