The COVID-19 pandemic has caused significant damage to human capital development across Europe and Central Asia. Lengthy periods of school closure have resulted in major learning losses among school-age children, particularly those living in poverty and those from ethnic minorities.
Globally, the economic losses incurred by middle-income countries are estimated to be high as $6.8 trillion in labor earnings over the work life of current students – or 15 to 22 percent of current GDP. It is estimated that the lifetime incomes of secondary school graduates have been reduced by about $9,000. Learning losses are significant.
Action must be taken now to ensure that individuals and communities can recover from these impacts and that countries can build resilient education systems to withstand any similar shocks in the future.
In countries across Europe and Central Asia, responses by education policymakers to the pandemic have varied widely. Monitoring these responses, the World Bank is supporting countries in managing the effects of school closures, reopening schools, and recovering learning losses by building more resilient education systems after COVID-19.
Our new report, Learning Recovery after COVID-19 in Europe and Central Asia: Policy and Practice, shows how countries can manage the impacts by adopting the best lessons learned during the crisis, making structural policy reforms that increase learning for all students, and preparing their education systems for future shocks. The plan for transforming education in the region, both during and after the crisis, comprises three key stages:
- Coping with school closures – by ensuring widespread access to digital learning for minorities and students in poverty.
- Managing the continuity of education – by safely reopening schools as soon as it is feasible.
- Improving and accelerating learning – by building back a more efficient and resilient education system.
Taken together, all of this implies the following:
- Consolidation of the curriculum to ensure that all students acquire the foundational skills—numeracy, literacy, and socioemotional skills—that will enable them to keep learning in the future.
- Identifying lagging students through the implementation of large-scale student assessments and supported by the provision of remedial education. Standardized tests that measure foundational skills can be a powerful diagnostic tool to identify any students whose proficiency is below minimum levels. Tutoring and the use of technology to personalize the learning process are effective ways to improve the outcomes of those who are lagging behind.
- Adapting in-person instruction so that it can be combined with remote learning in new hybrid education modes. These hybrid models should be an intrinsic part of a more resilient education system that will protect the student learning process from any future school disruptions.
- Ensuring adequate levels of education financing to safeguard the benefits of education in terms of future productivity and economic growth. Countries need to prioritize access and learning for the disadvantaged, define clear equity goals, and allocate budgets and personnel accordingly. As part of this effort, countries need to invest in widening internet access and in digital infrastructure and pedagogy to be able to provide hybrid instruction to disadvantaged groups.
The COVID-19 crisis has affected the educational structures of most countries around the world. In Europe and Central Asia, countries have coped with the pandemic by rapidly adapting their education delivery to prevent learning loss and retain students in school. They have done so by implementing remedial and compensatory programs aimed at recovering learning, by protecting minorities and students at risk, and by ensuring the health and safety of students and teachers.
The learning losses caused by the pandemic could be recovered by implementing a learning recovery approach that prioritizes foundational skills in the curriculum, uses standardized tests to identify students who are performing below the minimum learning standard, and by implementing compensatory policies.
If such an approach becomes a permanent element of the education system, and aims to ensure quality learning for all, then the COVID-19 pandemic could be the impetus for developing a more resilient and progressive education system in the future.