Many of us agonised about how long authorities took to reopen schools and get our kids back on the path to learning. Whilst we knew that prolonged closures would have a lasting damaging effect on our kids’ futures, this article in The Economist cites new studies by World Bank and Mckinsey that attempt to show the extent of the damage and it looks worse than what most of us had envisaged.
“Before the pandemic 57% of ten-year-olds in low and middle-income countries could not read a simple story, says the World Bank. That figure may have risen to 70%, it now estimates. The share of ten-year-olds who cannot read in Latin America, probably the worst-affected region, could rocket from around 50% to 80%
…Children who never master the basics will grow up to be less productive and to earn less. McKinsey, a consultancy, estimates that by 2040 education lost to school closures could cause global GDP to be 0.9% lower than it would otherwise have been—an annual loss of $1.6trn. The World Bank thinks the disruption could cost children $21trn in earnings over their lifetimes—a sum equivalent to 17% of global GDP today. That is much more than the $10trn it had estimated in 2020, and also an increase on the $17trn it was predicting last year.”
To make matters worse, poorer parts of the world saw longer closures:
“Full and partial shutdowns lasted 29 weeks in Europe and 32 weeks in sub-Saharan Africa. Countries in Latin America imposed restrictions lasting 63 weeks, on average. That figure was 73 weeks in South Asia.”
Another study tried to quantify the learning loss or how far behind did kids fall in their learning versus the normal:
“A paper published in May by analysts at the World Bank, Harvard and the Brookings Institution looks at 35 studies of learning loss from 20 mostly rich countries. It finds that the average loss across these studies was equivalent to what would usually be learned in one-third to one-half of a year of normal schooling.
In England test scores at the start of the 2021-22 school year suggest that primary-school kids were almost two months behind where they should be in maths, and one month in reading. Similar research in America found that children were on average between 8-19 weeks behind.
In some countries the results were truly dire. In South Africa primary schoolchildren tested after a 22-week closure were found to have learned only about one-quarter of what they should have. Brazilian secondary-school pupils who had missed almost six months of face-to-face school did similarly dreadfully. A study of 3,000 children in Mexico who had missed 48 weeks of in-person schooling suggests they appeared to have learned little or nothing during that time.
For the moment rigorous information on learning loss comes from only about one-sixth of countries, most of them rich ones. Back-of-the-envelope calculations published by McKinsey try to fill in the blanks. They combine several sets of data: how much schoolchildren usually learned in every country before schools closed; how long they shut classrooms for; and how effective their efforts at distance learning were likely to have been.
Their results (see chart 3) suggest that globally schoolchildren may be eight months behind where they would normally be. The damage may be massive in many middle-income countries, which are together home to about 75% of all school-age children. The lag in lots of those places could be 9-15 months. These countries generally kept school buildings closed longer than rich ones, and probably did a worse job of teaching remotely.”
And even within countries, the damage seems to have been even greater on poorer kids: “Around the world children have fallen further behind in maths than in reading. Pupils of primary-school age have drifted further back than older ones. Learners who were doing worse before the pandemic have generally dealt worse with the disruptions. And studies everywhere find that within each country, poorer children appear to have suffered more than richer ones. A paper from America examines the progress of children in schools that stayed remote for longer than half of the 2020-21 school year. It finds children enrolled at institutions which had lots of poor pupils lost nearly twice as much learning during that time as did those in schools where children were mostly better off.”

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