This generation of students now risks losing $17 trillion in lifetime earnings in present value, or about 14 per cent of today’s global GDP, as a result of COVID-19 pandemic-related school closures, according to a new report published by the World Bank, UNESCO, and UNICEF. The new projection reveals that the impact is more severe than previously thought, and far exceeds the $10 trillion estimates released in 2020.
In addition, The State of the Global Education Crisis: A Path to Recovery report shows that in low- and middle-income countries, the share of children living in Learning Poverty – already 53 per cent before the pandemic – could potentially reach 70 per cent given the long school closures and the ineffectiveness of remote learning to ensure full learning continuity during school closures.
Simulations estimating that school closures resulted in significant learning losses are now being corroborated by real data. For example, regional evidence from Pakistan, rural India, and South Africa, among others, show substantial losses in mathematics and reading. Analysis shows that in some countries, on average, learning losses are roughly proportional to the length of the closures. However, there was great heterogeneity across countries and by subject, students’ socioeconomic status, gender, and grade level. The estimated learning losses were greater in mathematics than reading, and affected younger learners, students from low-income backgrounds, as well as girls disproportionately.
Barring a few exceptions, the general trends from emerging evidence suggest that the crisis has exacerbated inequities in education:
- Children from low-income households, children with disabilities, and girls were less likely to access remote learning than their peers. This was often due to lack of accessible technologies and the availability of electricity, connectivity, and devices, as well as discrimination and gender norms.
- Younger students had less access to remote learning and were more affected by learning loss than older students, especially among pre-school age children in pivotal learning and development stages.
- The detrimental impact on learning has disproportionately affected the most marginalised or vulnerable. Learning losses were greater for students of lower socioeconomic status in countries like Ghana and Pakistan.
- Initial evidence points to larger losses among girls, as they are quickly losing the protection that schools and learning offers to their well-being and life chances.
The report highlights that, to date, less than 3 per cent of governments’ stimulus packages have been allocated to education. Much more funding will be needed for immediate learning recovery. The report also notes that while nearly every country in the world offered remote learning opportunities for students, the quality and reach of such initiatives differed – in most cases, they offered, at best, a rather partial substitute for in-person instruction. More than 200 million learners live in low- and lower middle-income countries that are unprepared to deploy remote learning during emergency school closures.
Reopening schools must remain a top and urgent priority globally to stem and reverse learning losses. Countries should put in place Learning Recovery Programs with the objective of assuring that students of this generation attain at least the same competencies of the previous generation. Programs must cover three key lines of action to recover learning:
1) consolidating the curriculum;
2) extending instructional time; and
3) improving the efficiency of learning.
In terms of improving the efficiency of learning, techniques like targeted instruction can help learning recovery, which means that teachers align instruction to the learning level of students, rather than an assumed starting point or curricular expectation. Targeted instruction will require addressing the learning data crisis by assessing students’ learning levels. It also necessitates additional support to teachers so that they are well-equipped to teach to the level of where children are, which is crucial to prevent losses from accumulating once children are back in school.
To build more resilient education systems for the long-term, countries should consider:
- Investing in the enabling environment to unlock the potential of digital learning opportunities for all students.
- Reinforcing the role of parents, families, and communities in children’s learning.
- Ensuring teachers have support and access to high-quality professional development opportunities.
- Increasing the share of education in the national budget allocation of stimulus packages.
The report was produced as part of the Mission: Recovering Education 2021 by which the World Bank, UNESCO, and UNICEF are focused on three priorities: bringing all children back to schools, recovering learning losses, and preparing and supporting teachers.