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date: 23 February 2024

An Analysis of COVID-19 Student Learning Losslocked

An Analysis of COVID-19 Student Learning Losslocked

  • Harry Patrinos, Harry PatrinosOffice of the Chief Economist, Europe and Central Asia, World Bank
  • Emiliana VegasEmiliana VegasGraduate School of Education, Harvard University
  •  and Rohan Carter-RauRohan Carter-RauCenter for Universal Education, The Brookings Institution

Summary

The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic led to school closures around the world, affecting almost 1.6 billion students. This caused significant disruption to the global education system. Even short interruptions in a child’s schooling have significant negative effects on their learning and can be long lasting. The capacities of education systems to respond to the crisis by delivering remote learning and support to children and families have been diverse and uneven.

In response to this disruption, education researchers are beginning to analyze the impact of these school closures on student learning loss. The term learning loss is commonly used in the literature to describe declines in student knowledge and skills. Early reviews of the first wave of lockdowns and school closures suggested significant learning loss in a few countries. A more recent and thorough analysis of recorded learning loss evidence documented since the beginning of the school closures between March 2020 and March 2022 found even more evidence of learning loss. In 36 identified robust studies, the majority identified learning losses that amount to, on average, 0.17 of a standard deviation (SD), equivalent to roughly a one-half school year’s worth of learning. This confirms that learning loss is real and significant and has continued to grow after the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic. Most studies observed increases in inequality where certain demographics of students experienced more significant learning losses than others. The longer the schools remained closed, the greater were the learning losses. For the 19 countries for which there are robust learning loss data, average school closures were 15 weeks, leading to average learning losses of 0.18 SD. Put another way, for every week that schools were closed, learning declined by an average of 0.01 SD.

However, there are also outliers—countries that managed to limit the amount of loss. In Nara City, Japan, for example, the initial closures had brought down test scores, but responsive policies largely overcame this decline. In addition, a decreased summer vacation helped. In Denmark, children received good home support and their reading behavior improved significantly. In Sweden, where primary schools did not close during the pandemic, there were no reported learning losses. Further work is needed to increase the quantity of studies produced, particularly in low- and middle-income countries, and to ascertain the reasons for learning loss. Finally, the few cases where learning loss was mitigated should be further investigated to inform continued and future pandemic responses.

Subjects

  • Health, Education, and Welfare Economics

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