COVID-19 lockdowns reduce children's probability to return to school: evidence from Nigeria


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The Community Secondary School in Oginigba Community, Port Harcourt, Rivers State, Nigeria
The Community Secondary School in Oginigba Community, Port Harcourt, Rivers State, Nigeria. Emmage /

For many children worldwide, particularly those from low-income backgrounds, schooling represents the primary way to escape poverty and break the intergenerational transmission of poverty. However, in many low-income countries, aggregate income shocks often threaten children’s  education, which parents view as a costly investment. Moreover,  evidence shows that aggregate income shocks increase children’s vulnerability to child labor or child marriage (Corno and Voena (2016)Corno et al. (2020)) — two cultural practices known to undermine children’s schooling outcomes (Canagarajah and Coulombe, 1999Field and Ambrus, 2008). When the COVID-19 pandemic erupted in early 2020, it was not surprising that concerns immediately arose over possible setbacks regarding progress achieved in educational outcomes (UNICEF, 2021b). Not only did the pandemic induce countries to enact protracted economy-wide lockdown measures, it also led to the temporary closure of schools. As lockdown measures became adverse shocks to household income and food security, there was a widespread concern that they might lead poor parents to pull children out of school permanently so that they could contribute to household income. However, since school closures were temporary, and in some locations children were able to maintain contact with school through distance learning (Dang et al. 2021), it is unclear whether such concerns were justified. 

In our study we use a unique dataset from Nigeria to test the hypothesis that COVID-19 school lockdown measures undermine children’s school resilience and reduce the number of students who returned to school after these measures were lifted.

To identify the effect that countrywide COVID-19 lockdown measures had on children's probability to attend school following schools' reopening, we compare a panel of school-age individuals observed just before schools' closure and just after schools' reopening and rely on the quasi-randomness of the occurrence of the pandemic. However, despite the plausible exogeneity of the COVID-19 shock, the potential simultaneous occurrence of other covariate shocks (e.g., climate shocks) can confound the identification of its effect on school attendance. Indeed, in Nigeria’s drought-prone western Sahel region, the concomitant occurrence of climate shocks such as droughts or floods is highly probable. Therefore, we control for exposure to climate shocks and shocks to household size both before the COVID-19 shock and post-shock to account for this potential challenge to identification.

We find that COVID-19 lockdown measures reduced children's school attendance across all of Nigeria. Our results show that the magnitude of adverse effect of lockdown measures increases with children's age. It is most prominent among children aged 15-18—those for whom schooling is no longer free and compulsory in Nigeria. This finding points to the fact that when hit with an adverse shock to their resources, families disproportionately stop sending children to school for whom education isn't compulsory, suggesting that such discontinuation is likely to lead to school dropout. We also find that among children aged 12-18 in the child-marriage prone North-West Nigeria, lockdown measures increase gender inequality by favoring boys to attend school, thus increasing girls' risk of becoming child brides.

We take the above results as suggestive evidence that in countries where cultural practices harmful to children are relatively common (e.g., child marriage and child labor), COVID-19 lockdown measures are likely to exacerbate children's vulnerability to these practices.  Of course, our data do not allow us to identify whether the adverse effect of lockdown measures on children's school resilience is permanent. However, as we find that this effect is more prominent among adolescents—a group of children whose economic value to parents becomes significant, there is ground for concern that it may indeed be permanent.


Sylvain Dessy

Professor, Laval University in Quebec, Canada

Horace Gninafon

Ph.D. student in Economics, Université Laval in Canada

Luca Tiberti

Professor, Laval University (Canada) and the University of Florence (Italy)

Marco Tiberti

Economist, Development Data Group, World Bank

Join the Conversation

September 09, 2021

Hello, my name is Bangar Vaibhav Sheshrao. I am a resident of Hingoli district in the state of Maharashtra in India. I have read 'COVID-19 lockdowns reduce children's probability to return to school: evidence from Nigeria' this blog in its entirety.

In December 2019, I read that there is a contagious disease called Covid-19 in China ...

At that time, I also had in my mind the idea of ​​what measures our country is taking to prevent this disease from coming to our country.

The country had a long period of two to three months in terms of planning, but no country in the world has looked at the disease with foresight.

From this, we all learned that when such a global crisis arises in any country of the world, it is important for all the countries in the world to come together and think about it and take measures to overcome it.

The World Bank, WTO, WHO, and other organizations working globally are working hard to overcome these global crises, but it is equally important to bring the general public into the mainstream of these organizations and convince them of the importance of these organizations. ..

I did not leave the house after March 18, 2020 ... because since then our country had declared a lockdown ... since then all schools and colleges in the country have been completely closed ... this decision was the best from the point of view of health security, but It was equally important at that time to study the adverse effects of the decision ...
Neglect of children's education due to closure of schools and colleges ... Dismissal of employees working in various places due to closure of various companies
These things were bound to happen .... but it was just as important to plan for this ...

While I was studying in the last year of my degree year, after Covid-19 took place many of the girls got married of my class ...
And in our district too, a large numbers of school girls got married ....
By avoiding the huge expenses incurred in the event like wedding ceremony, less people are invited to the event like wedding ceremony and more people are ready to carry out the wedding ceremony at low cost ...

Covid-19 has led to the mindset of the people here to get out of this crisis by marrying girls instead of facing future economic downturn, spending on girls' education, and financial difficulties.
It is a common misconception that girls go to their husbands' house after marriage and that teaching them is of no use to them.
It is also necessary to take some concrete measures to bring these students back out of the stream of education. Strict enforcement of government laws, as well as eradication of misconceptions in the society, raising public awareness, giving girls a large number of opportunities in government jobs, making girls' education completely free, setting up counseling centers at local schools and colleges. To bring the rights of children under the law as a separate subject while they are receiving education.
Government will be able to take these and many other similar measures and bring back the students who are out of the stream of education due to covid-19, and keep the students in the stream of education in the future ... I think the above measures will be important for Nations future....

The World Bank's blogs are proving to be very important in addressing the global issues ... I would like to congratulate the entire World Bank Group for this & I Want to tell
"It is equally important to bring new students in the field of education into this stream and connect the World Bank...!"