The lengthy closure of schools resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic might cost students trillions of dollars in lifetime earnings, according to the new World Bank and UN agencies report. The report warns that the crisis has worsened since last year.
The report indicates that the current generation of learners might lose USD 17 trillion in lifetime earnings – in present value – as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic-related school closures. The loss according to the report titled; The State of the Global Education Crisis: A Path to Recovery report published by World Bank-UNESCO-UNICEF, is equivalent to about 14 per cent of today’s global Gross Domestic Product-GDP.
This new projection reveals that the impact of the pandemic that shut down schools across the world disrupting education for 1.6 billion students at its peak and exacerbated the gender divide is more severe than previously thought, and far exceeds the USD 10 trillion estimates released in 2020.
However, the disruptions and impact are not being felt equally, with the study finding that poorer and disabled children have less access to remote learning, while younger students were overall more affected. Girls had both less ability to shift to remote learning and more education loss overall, the report added.
The analysis also shows that in many countries, on average, learning losses are roughly proportional to the length of the closures. Schools in Uganda have remained closed for over 80 weeks, which is the longest school closure recorded across the world, yet the ongoing COVID-19 lockdown, which led to the closure of schools is projected to worsen the already waning learning outcomes in the country.
With the prolonged closure, the World Bank estimates that Ugandan children may lose an average of 0.7 to 1.4 learning adjusted years of school resulting in Shillings 600,000 to Shillings 1.1 million lost earnings per person per year. Learning adjusted years of school is a tool that helps to reveal the real outcomes learners are achieving considering factors like the number of years of school an average child can expect to achieve by her 18th birthday and what she or he learns, based on globally harmonized test scores. In a press release issued on Monday, the Director of Education in UNICEF, Robert Jenkins said that to stem the scars on this generation, governments must reopen schools and keep them open, target outreach to return learners to school, and accelerate learning recovery.
Jaime Saavedra, the World Bank’s Global Director for Education, also noted that the loss of learning that many children are experiencing is morally unacceptable.
“The COVID-19 crisis brought education systems across the world to a halt. Now, 21 months later, schools remain closed for millions of children, and others may never return to school,” said Saavedra.
However, Stefania Giannini, UNESCO Assistant Director-General for Education was optimistic noting that with individual 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,” Giannini said.
Going forward, the report recommends that reopening schools must remain a top and urgent priority globally to stem and reverse learning losses. It further advises countries to put in place Learning Recovery Programs to ensure that students of this generation attain at least the same competencies as the previous generation.
The Learning Recovery Programs, according to the report, must cover three key lines of action to recover learning: consolidating the curriculum; extending instructional time, and improving the efficiency of learning. To build more resilient education systems for the long-term, the study notes that countries should consider investing in the enabling environment to unlock the potential of digital learning opportunities for all students, reinforcing the role of parents, families, and communities in children’s learning and ensuring teachers have support and access to high-quality professional development opportunities.
More critical though is increasing the share of education in the national budget allocation of stimulus packages. Currently, while governments worldwide have unveiled stimulus measures to bolster their economies against the pandemic’s disruptions, the report shows that less than three percent of these funds have gone to education, and more than 200 million students live in countries that don’t have the means to offer all lessons remotely.