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Diving into the data: How COVID-19 could lead to years of lost learning


The COVID-19 pandemic is threatening to undo years of progress on global education. Since the pandemic started, school closures have affected up to 91% of enrolled learners, or 1.6 billion children. Here is a look at how countries’ policies on school closures evolved over the past six months.

COVID-19 quickly transformed from a localized epidemic to a global pandemic with far-reaching consequences across sectors

6 months ago, when COVID-19 was still just a localized epidemic, only two countries had restrictions on their education systems: China (partial closures) and Mongolia (total closure).

Two months later, as we entered April 2020, COVID-19 resulted in 193 country-wide school closures, affecting over 91% of enrolled learners or 1.6 billion children.

In Africa, not a single country had its schools fully open.

For months, kids missed out on learning. In fact, a recent survey of youth in 46 countries found that 8 in 10 children surveyed felt they were learning little or nothing at all during the pandemic.
This has far-reaching consequences: just 3 months of missed schooling can translate into 1.5 years of learning loss many years later, and further result in lower levels of employment and earnings.

Since then, to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on education systems, governments have responded in vastly different ways. Some areas of the world — from Norway to France or Greenland — gradually began to reopen their school doors for all students…

While other countries – such as China and Cote d’Ivoire — instituted partial reopenings…

but the vast majority remained closed

In August, the picture looked entirely different: Just 33 countries still had country-wide school closures

…but children were out of school in another 142 countries that were on academic break.

Today, we are at a turning point where many countries’ academic breaks are ending. As of 15 September schools in 53 countries will remain closed due to COVID-19 and an additional 37 will have localized closures or hybrid re-openings.

In Africa, as of 15 September: Schools will be fully open in 12 countries, including South Africa which has the highest number of confirmed cases on the continent. Schools will be partially open in 10 countries, on academic break in 18, and closed due to COVID-19 in 14 countries.

So what can be done?

It’s clear that the cumulative effect of this means that children have missed out on months of schooling. And on a continent where less than 40% of primary schools have access to basic handwashing facilities and there are nearly 40 pupils to a teacher, hygiene and social distancing measures are exceedingly hard to employ.

To counteract the impacts of lost learning and to prepare schools for reopening, countries must ensure education financing is protected:

  • Donor countries should ensure 15% of ODA goes toward education, as recommended by the Education Commission in filling the financing gap. ODA should also be made more flexible.
  • All governments should meet global thresholds of 4-6% of their GDP and 18-20% of government expenditure allocated toward education
  • Financing commitments should be held accountable to delivering results through an education financing tracker.

And develop and execute a plan to get students back in school and recover learning loss including:

  • Equitable distance learning programs that encompass radio, television programming, and SMS, as well as printed materials, and ensure outreach from school leaders.
  • Engage communities in continued learning and school reopening plans, remove school fees, distribute block grants to schools, reinstate and expand school feeding programs, cover school uniforms and books targeted at vulnerable and marginalized populations.
  • Make schools safe by improving sanitation facilities and issuing social distancing guidelines.
  • Develop remedial programs, modify the school calendar, simplify the curriculum, offer professional development for teachers aimed at teaching at the right level, and offer mental health services.
  • Establish early warning systems to prevent dropouts and assess student levels consistently.


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