Learning loss must be recovered to avoid long-term damage to children’s well-being, new report says
New recommendations from the Global Education Evidence Advisory Panel (GEEAP) offer guidance on how to recover learning and prevent further loss, including prioritizing the full reopening of schools
DHAKA, 12 March 2022 – 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, according to a new report by the Global Education Evidence Advisory Panel (GEEAP), supported by the UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office, UNICEF, and the World Bank. Key evidence and findings from the report were presented and discussed today in Dhaka at a virtual event attended by expert panellists representing the GEEAP, FCDO, the World Bank, UNICEF, development practitioners and the Government.
Prioritizing Learning During COVID-19 presents the latest data on the impact of school closures on children. 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.
In Bangladesh, the education of 37 million children has been disrupted in what has been one of the longest school closures in the world due to the pandemic. Since closing in March 2020, schools in Bangladesh remained shuttered for 18 months. They were reopened in September 2021 but were again closed for a month in February 2022.
“The pandemic has disrupted the education of millions of students in Bangladesh on an unprecedented scale as anywhere else in the world. For the future of these children and for their present well-being, it is crucial that we invest in recovery of learning losses and ensure that all children come back to and remain in school. Therefore, we are moving towards blended education, and the Government with the support of its partners is committed to that goal,” said Dr. Dipu Moni, Minister of Education, Government of Bangladesh, during the panel discussion.
The economic cost of lost learning from the crisis will be severe. The World Bank estimates a USD $17 trillion loss in lifetime earnings among today’s generation of schoolchildren if corrective action is not urgently taken.
“Recognizing the severity of the impact of school closings on children, this second Panel report offers practical guidance on how education systems can respond to ensure that the learning needs, especially of marginalized and disadvantaged groups, are addressed based on the best evidence available during a rapidly changing crisis,” says Rachel Glennerster, Associate Professor of Economics in the Division of Social Science at the University of Chicago.
Low- and middle-income countries and children from lower socioeconomic backgrounds have been the hardest hit, the 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 relatively low effectiveness of remote learning efforts. In Brazil, for example, 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 having 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.
“School closures have been difficult for all children, but poor and girl children were most affected. They suffered greater learning losses and were at higher risk of dropping out. Even before the pandemic, in 2017, more than half of the Bangladeshi children completing primary school could not read and comprehend a simple text. Simulations now show 76 per cent of children will not attain the minimum reading proficiency at the end of primary school due to school closures. The World Bank is helping Bangladesh’s efforts towards a resilient and inclusive recovery through investments in human capital such as remedial education and ramping up stipend programmes to keep poor children in school,” said Mercy Tembon, World Bank Country Director for Bangladesh and Bhutan.
“COVID-19 has been the largest disruptor of education in modern history. At the height of school closures, 1.6 billion children and young people were out of school. Education is a human right and a gateway to other rights. We need it for gender equality, lasting poverty reduction, and building prosperous, resilient economies, and peaceful, stable societies. Crucially, it gives children the ability to shape their own lives and realize their potential. It isn’t just a matter of individual fairness; it’s about the strength and resilience of communities and nations. Now is the time for us to rebuild and reimagine a future education system that includes all children and inspires hope and ambition for their future,” says Judith Herbertson, Development Director, British High Commission in Dhaka.
“We must go above and beyond opening classrooms: We need to ensure that schools are fully open, and that all children are able to return back to school, including those who have been furthest left behind. What they need now is intensive support to get back on track,” said Mr. Sheldon Yett, UNICEF Representative to Bangladesh.
The report identifies four urgent recommendations made by the Panel (GEEAP) to help prevent further loss and recover children’s education:
- Prioritize keeping schools and preschools fully open. The large educational, economic, social, and mental health costs of school closures and the inadequacy of remote learning strategies as substitutes for in-person learning make it clear that school closures should be a last resort.
- Prioritize teachers for the COVID-19 vaccination, and use masks where assessed as appropriate, and improve ventilation. While not prerequisites to reopening schools, the risk of transmission in schools can be sharply reduced when a combined set of mitigating actions, such as using quality masks and ventilation, are taken.
- Adjust instruction to support the learning needs of children and focus on important foundational skills. It is critical to assess students’ learning levels as schools reopen. Targeting instruction tailored to a child’s learning level has been shown to be cost-effective at helping students catch up, including grouping children by level all day or part of the day.
- Governments must ensure teachers have adequate support to help children learn. Interventions that provide teachers with carefully structured and simple pedagogy programs have been found to cost-effectively increase literacy and numeracy, particularly when combined with accountability, feedback, and monitoring mechanisms.
The expert panel also calls on governments to build on the lessons learned during school closures by supporting parental engagement and leveraging existing technology.
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For more information, please see the Prioritizing Learning During COVID-19 report.
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