COVID set to cost next generation $17 trillion

A new report has warned that the students of today are set to lose $17 trillion in lifetime earnings, due to the impact of COVID on their education.

The State of the Global Education Crisis: A Path to Recovery report warns the loss of earnings at present day pricing equates to 14 percent of today’s global GDP, as a result of COVID-19 pandemic-related school closures. The figure is almost double the $10 trillion estimate released last year.

“The COVID-19 crisis brought education systems across the world to a halt,” said Jaime Saavedra, World Bank global director for Education. “Now, 21 months later, schools remain closed for millions of children, and others may never return to school. The loss of learning that many children are experiencing is morally unacceptable. And the potential increase of Learning Poverty might have a devastating impact on future productivity, earnings, and well-being for this generation of children and youth, their families, and the world’s economies.”

The report added that in low- and middle-income countries, the share of children living in Learning Poverty – already 53 percent before the pandemic – could potentially reach 70 percent 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 Brazil, Pakistan, rural India, South Africa, and Mexico, among others, show substantial losses in math 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. For example, results from two states in Mexico show significant learning losses in reading and in math for students aged 10-15. The estimated learning losses were greater in math than reading, and affected younger learners, students from low-income backgrounds, as well as girls disproportionately.

“The COVID-19 pandemic shut down schools across the world, disrupting education for 1.6 billion students at its peak, and exacerbated the gender divide. In some countries, we’re seeing greater learning losses among girls and an increase in their risk of facing child labour, gender-based violence, early marriage, and pregnancy. To stem the scars on this generation, we must reopen schools and keep them open, target outreach to return learners to school, and accelerate learning recovery,” said UNICEF Director of Education Robert Jenkins.

The report highlighted that, to date, less than 3 percent of governments’ stimulus packages have been allocated to education. Much more funding will be needed for immediate learning recovery. The report also noted 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,” it added. “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.”

“We are committed to supporting governments more generally with their COVID response through the Mission Recovery plan launched earlier this year,” explained Stefania Giannini, UNESCO Assistant Director-General for Education.  “With government leadership and support from the international community, there is a great deal that can be done to make systems more equitable, efficient, and resilient, capitalizing on lessons learned throughout the pandemic and on increasing investments. But to do that, we must make children and youth a real priority amidst all the other demands of the pandemic response.  Their future – and our collective future – depends on it.”

The report added that in low- and middle-income countries, the share of children living in Learning Poverty – already 53 percent before the pandemic – could potentially reach 70 percent given the long school closures and the ineffectiveness of remote learning to ensure full learning continuity during school closures.

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