This piece originally appeared in USA Today on November 8
The latest U.S. math and reading scores showed worrisome declines due to the pandemic’s toll and related school closures. For many developing countries, the impacts of this shock are even worse, amounting to a crisis in learning that threatens a generation of children.
Learning deficits were already large before the pandemic but were deepened as COVID-19 brought education systems around the world to a standstill. This could result in massive productivity and earnings potential losses and endanger the future welfare of a generation of children and youth. Governments and the international development community must act quickly and decisively.
For example,And in São Paulo, Brazil, one of the first large jurisdictions to rigorously measure learning losses, the declines were so large that scores regressed to learning levels measured 14 years ago in math and 10 years ago in reading. Large losses have also been documented in India, Bangladesh, and Mexico.
A chance to recover learning losses, if we act
Most schools have already re-opened, but returning to the same way of teaching as before the pandemic will not be enough to recover these losses. Students are finding it difficult to keep up with their teachers and lessons. They are at risk of becoming disengaged and falling so far behind that they might drop out. Girls are at particular risk.
Four steps are needed to recover learning losses and transform education:
- In Kenya and Mexico, for example, governments have expanded the academic calendar by shortening holidays.
- Teach at the Right Level program pioneered in India, grouping children by instructional needs rather than age or grade. An example of this is the
- Countries including South Africa and Chile are working to focus their curricula to enhance foundational learning.
- Finally – most important – Many countries reduced education budgets when they closed schools during COVID-19. Countries need to build focused programs to improve educational outcomes and skills aimed at employment opportunities for youth. Facing overlapping development crises, we know that governments and communities are struggling to prioritize limited resources. Yet we also know that the chances for a better future are defined by current education investments.
Through this joint effort, countries commit to invest the financial and human resources needed to achieve their own national learning targets, while international institutions commit to actively supporting governments to reduce global learning poverty by half.
Unaddressed, the learning crisis could become the worst shock to human capital in recent history. But we can prevent further damage. Families, educators, governments, donors, civil society, and the private sector must work together to support students, teachers, and schools.
– and to help put a generation of children and youth back on track toward developing the foundational skills they need for a bright future.
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