More than three years after the COVID-19 pandemic shuttered schools across the world, evidence of the long-term effects of learning losses has been accumulating across all contexts.
Recent results from the United States, showing 2022-23 achievement gains are continuing to fall short of pre-pandemic levels, accompanies findings from the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) 2021 survey to indicate poor global progress towards learning recovery. Such findings are echoed by other evidence from Brazil, India, South Africa, and Malawi, suggesting that the long-term costs of pandemic-related learning losses are significant and being felt across the globe.
A recently released World Bank publication, Learning Recovery to Acceleration, takes stock of countries’ efforts to overcome the pandemic-related disruptions to education and long-lasting impacts on students. Through an analysis of 60 education systems and a deep-dive into seven countries–Cambodia, Colombia, Côte d’Ivoire, India, Mongolia, Romania, and Zambia—we examine what is being done to recover and accelerate learning following the disruptions of the pandemic, and how. In this analysis, we apply the lens of the RAPID Framework (figure 1), a comprehensive set of policy actions that represents the key areas where investment is needed to advance learning.
Figure 1. Rapid Framework to Recover and Accelerate Learning
Mixed findings on countries’ commitment to combatting the learning crisis
We found that very few countries had made comprehensive attempts to address the serious impacts of the pandemic on education. Only 1 in 5 had an explicit and comprehensive strategy or plan to recover and accelerate learning after schools reopened. Furthermore, less than a third of countries had implemented some of the policy measures that we know are among the most cost-effective for improving learning (e.g., structured pedagogy, targeted instruction), as evidenced by the new education “Smart Buys” report coauthored by the Global Education Evidence Advisory Panel (GEEAP). Unfortunately, it appears many countries have continued as they had before the pandemic.
Fortunately, amidst these tepid responses to learning recovery, the report also identified promising examples from around the world of education systems taking comprehensive, at-scale action to combat the learning crisis, many of which are already seeing results. Such countries are paving a path towards a new and improved status quo that we, as the education community, can seek to understand and gain invaluable insights from. Some of these insights, organized under the RAPID Framework, include:
1. Reach all students and keep them in school
Protecting access to education requires a more holistic understanding of students and the barriers they face. A common feature of country efforts to bring students back to school and reduce dropout was the proactive use of data to develop a more wholesome understanding of individual students. For example, Romania’s Early Warning Mechanism uses data from student and teacher questionnaires to target students at risk of dropping out with prevention, intervention, and compensation measures. Students provide information related to socioemotional and academic support, school belonging, and classroom environment, while teachers provide student information on attendance, grades, and behavior.
2. Assess learning levels regularly
Learning recovery and acceleration efforts have reminded some countries that learning data must not only be widely available but also actionable and purposeful. Not only did such countries produce more learning data, but made explicit efforts to ensure such data could be accessible, well-understood, and tied to action. For example, the results of Mendoza, Argentina’s 2021 Oral Reading Fluency was disseminated in easy-to-use formats, such as school report cards, so that school directors and local supervisors could identify schools in need of teacher training and students in need of additional supports such as tutoring.
3. Prioritize teaching the fundamentals
Foundational learning is at the heart of learning recovery. Many countries have prioritized efforts to build foundational skills like literacy, numeracy, and other interdisciplinary skills, through temporary, and sometimes permanent, adjustments to curricula and instructional time. Upon school reopening, Bhutan implemented the New Normal Curriculum to bring greater focus to numeracy, literacy, and life skills. The new curriculum comprised approximately 65 percent of the previous curriculum and maximized interdisciplinary learning to combine certain topics under common themes. Such efforts in Bhutan are promising for bolstering foundational learning, in light of recent evidence from prioritized curriculum programs in both Tanzania and Indonesia.
4. Increase the efficiency of instruction, including through catch-up learning
Recovering and accelerating learning requires enabling teachers and schools to offer a wider range of academic supports that can address the needs of each and every learner. To appropriately support the increasingly heterogeneous classrooms resulting from the pandemic, some countries have equipped schools with student supports such as targeted instruction, tutoring, and adaptive instructional programming. However, efforts to introduce new and more equitable practices in the classroom have emphasized the importance of and need to invest in teachers. In Cote d’Ivoire, the Projet d’Amélioration des Prestations de Services Educatifs (PAPSE) program provided teachers with regular, class-based coaching, and detailed, easy-to-use teaching materials to support new pedagogical practices in early grade learning. In Pakistan, a targeted instruction program was supported by a low-cost software that eased the administrative burden on teachers by automating activities such as grading and tracking students.
5. Develop psychosocial health and wellbeing
Some countries have begun to leverage their schools as places to address the psychosocial needs of students and staff. With the pandemic triggering an increase in common psychosocial issues, a detriment in and of itself and to learning, some countries have equipped schools with the ability to take proactive measures to bolster wellbeing and reactive measures to address psychosocial issues as they arise. Core to the curriculum of Ethiopia’s Speed Schools in conflict-afflicted areas are activities that develop the psychosocial health of both students and teachers. After receiving their own supports, teachers are trained in how to promote student wellbeing through activity-based instruction focused on healing.
We know what needs to be done to accelerate learning for all children. It is imperative that governments respond comprehensively and at scale immediately.
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