School closures inflict long-term damage to children’s wellbeing
By Vatican News staff reporter
School closures have caused large and persistent damage to children’s learning and wellbeing, the cost of which will be felt for decades to come. The revelation comes from a new study entitled, “Prioritizing Learning During Covid-19”, launched on Wednesday by the Global Education Evidence Advisory Panel (GEEAP).
Co-hosted by the UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office, the Office of Research-Innocenti of the United Nations children’s fund UNICEF, and the World Bank, the study says that unless urgent corrective action is taken it could end up in losses for a lifetime. Estimates suggest that without urgent action, a Grade 3 child who has lost one year of schooling during the pandemic could lose up to three years’ worth of learning in the long run.
“Learning losses due to school closures are one of the biggest global threats to medium- and long-term recovery from Covid-19,” said Abhijit Banerjee, co-chair of the GEAAP. “The evidence tells us that schools need to reopen and be kept open as far as possible, and steps need to be taken in reintegrating children back into the school system,” said Banerjee, who shared the 2019 economics Nobel Prize, in part for his work in education. He is one of the 15 education experts from around the world who produced the second annual GEAAP report.
Data released by UNICEF on International Day for Education, 24 January, said more than 616 million students remain affected by full or partial school closures.
A lifetime of loss
According to a recent United Nations study, the current generation of students now risks losing $17 trillion in lifetime earnings in present value as a result of school closures, or the equivalent of 14 per cent of today’s global GDP, far more than the $10 trillion estimated in 2020.
“While many other sectors have rebounded when lockdowns ease, the damage to children’s education is likely to reduce children’s wellbeing, including mental health, and productivity for decades,” said Kwame Akyeampong, who chaired the panel at Wednesday’s launch. This makes the disruption of education one of the biggest threats to medium- and long-term recovery from Covid-19, unless governments act swiftly.
Inequity in education
Low- and middle-income countries and children from lower socioeconomic backgrounds have been the hardest hit, the GEAAP report notes. Schools have, on average, been closed for longer than in high-income countries, students have had less or no access to technology during school closures, and there has been less adaptation to the challenges of the crisis.
Evidence is mounting of the low effectiveness of remote learning efforts. In Sao Paolo, Brazil, for example, Grade 5 students in remote classes learned nearly 75 per cent less and were 2.5 times more likely to drop out. Emerging data on learning loss shows Grade 4 students in South Africa have lost at least 62 per cent of a year of learning due to school closures, and students in rural Karnataka, India, are estimated to have lost a full year.
The increase in education inequality that Covid-19 has created, across and within countries, is not only a problem in its own right; varied learning levels in the classroom makes it more difficult for teachers to help most students catch up, especially the most marginalized.
Not just enough to reopen schools
“While schools must be the first to open as restrictions are lifted, recovering the loss that children have experienced requires far more than simply reopening classrooms. Schoolchildren need intensive support to get back on track, teachers need access to quality training and resources, and education systems need to be transformed,” said Robert Jenkins, UNICEF Director of Education.
The report identifies four urgent recommendations to help prevent further loss and recover children’s education:
1. Prioritize keeping schools and preschools fully open.
2. Prioritize teachers’ anti-Covid vaccination and other working conditions to prevent contagion.
3. Adjust instruction to support the learning needs of children and focus on important foundational skills.
4. Governments must lend adequate support to teachers to help enhance children’s basic literacy and numeracy skills.
(Source: UN, UNICEF)