COVID-19 & Education: A World Bank Group Perspective

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The coronavirus pandemic forced education institutions across the entire planet to close. It is the biggest shock ever experienced by the global education community.  Thousands and thousands of schools, technical institutions, and universities saw their classrooms empty from one day to the next. This tidal wave that swept the entire planet was followed by a deep global economic recession.  This twin shock to education systems will have profound impacts on education outcomes. And it is not over yet. 

Prior to the outbreak of the global coronavirus pandemic, the world was already struggling with a deep learning crisis, with 53% of children in low- and middle-income countries unable to read and understand a simple text by age 10. Countries now have a more challenging baseline and much larger inequality in educational outcomes to confront. 

When alarm bells began to sound by late February on the growing spread of the COVID-19 virus, the World Bank established a multi-sectoral global task force to support countries’ crisis response and coping measures.  At the time, only China and a handful of schools in other affected countries mandates school closures as part of their sanitary strategy to fight the pandemic. By mid-April, 1.6 billion students were out of school.  By early July, more than 50 countries across the globe have begun to reopen schools, but still, over 1.1 billion of students have not resumed classes.

Without effective remedial action when students start returning to school – a back-to-school experience that will be very different in many cases – this generation of students stands to lose an estimated $10 trillion in earnings over their lifetime, and countries will be driven off-track to achieving their Learning Poverty reduction goals.  As a result, if aggressive public policy measures are not taken, this generation of students may never achieve their full education, job, and earnings potential.

Early on, the World Bank’s Education Global Practice started working to support countries as they struggled to manage and cope with the crisis, advising on remote learning at-scale in the immediate to short-term.  Operational and technical support then has moved to managing the continuity of the education service, as well as the return to school, and also preparing systems to build back better, to facilitate learning after the pandemic is over.  The Bank is providing ongoing support to systemic education reform to ensure that schools can provide the necessary environments to ensure children are safe and engaged in a renewed accelerated learning process. 

In fiscal year 2020, we provided a record amount of $5.2 billion in new commitments for education programs, with our overall portfolio surpassing $17.2 billion.  All these projects are designed to improve learning and provide everyone with the opportunity to get the education they need to succeed.  To address COVID, the WBG is restructuring operations or preparing 93 COVID-related education projects in 63 countries that amount to $2.3 billion, with a focus on the key drivers of learning: prepared learners, motivated and effective teachers, adequate resources and learning environments, and effective management and school leadership.   

This compilation of our blogs during the about 100 days between March and June 2020 offers our analyses on how the pandemic has impacted the education sector across the globe, from early learning all the way to tertiary education. Our thinking, worries, impressions have been changing over time. Data and analytics have been evolving.  The collective understanding of how the pandemic was impacting, and what to do about it has been changing and continues doings so. Unfortunately, this is far from over.  But it is useful to take stock, recap, and continue. 

I hope you will find it both an interesting and helpful read.


Jaime Saavedra

Human Development Director for Latin America and the Caribbean at the World Bank

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