How Nations Can Compensate for Lost Education During the Pandemic

In the wake of the pandemic, this generation’s prospects are dimming and their options are becoming increasingly limited even into adulthood. The COVID-19 crisis has had an unparalleled impact on education. It has slowed the pace of achieving international education targets and harmed the poorest and most vulnerable people the most. The world was already in a learning crisis before COVID-19 arrived. A study investigated the effect of the 2005 Pakistan earthquake found that students missed 3 months of school due to the earthquake. Four years after the disaster, they were just the learning equivalent of 1.5 years behind where they would have been without the catastrophe. The most likely reason is that because the pupils were already behind schedule when they returned to school, they continued to fall behind. With school closures as a result of the pandemic, the World Bank predicts that the number of children who cannot read a basic sentence by the age of 10 will climb from 53% prior to the outbreak to 63%.

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdowns, school children all over the globe have lost approximately 1.8 trillion hours of in-person learning. Thus, young students have been deprived of their education as well as other critical advantages that come from attending school. From March 2020 to September 2021, about 131 million kids in 11 countries missed three-quarters of their face-to-face education. Nearly 77 million of them – or 59%  have missed nearly all of their in-person education time. Around 27% of countries have kept their schools partially or completely shut. At this time, more than 870 million pupils of all grades are being affected by educational disruptions, according to the most recent UNESCO data.

The pandemic’s impact on student learning is still being felt by millions of people today. Learning losses endanger to outlast this generation, wiping out decades of progress, particularly in support of girls’ and young women’s educational access and retainment. A total of 23.8 million added children and youth may not attend school next year as a result of the economic impact of the pandemic. COVID-19 school cancellations resulted in an average loss of two-thirds of a school year, according to UNESCO data. The resulting loss of knowledge is tremendous. Closing schools robs pupils of the chance to develop critical cognitive, social, physical, and emotional abilities. When students take a break from school, they tend to lose some of what they’ve learned. A range of initiatives have been taken by countries to reduce the impact of school closures on learning, over 40% of countries have extended the academic year, and a similar percentage have prioritised certain curricular topics. On the other hand, said no changes had been made in many countries.

How do we assist kids who have slipped behind in their studies? This is the burning question on everyone’s mind right now.

Reopening of schools is being planned by countries according to grade level and test priority, or by opening schools in areas with fewer cases of the virus. Some have said that the best solution to this dilemma is to repeat the entire school year. Governments around the world and especially Kenyan Government have already agreed to implement this policy since it ensures that students are treated equally no matter where they come from. Another strategy is to simplify and synthesize the curriculum so that students may concentrate on fewer courses and master them, as has been done in Odisha, India, and Ontario, Canada. Bangladesh has developed a recovery plan that involves a two-year curricula that concentrates on core topics including arithmetic, Bengali, English, and science in secondary schools. Many people have been talking about catch-up and remedial education recently, but what kind will it be and how much will it cost?

There are two ways to look at this, according to a joint McKinsey-UNESCO toolkit. One way to do this is to give pupils extra time to study. Summer classes, weekend catch-up, or extra time at the end of the day are all options. Schools in the Philippines, for instance, held extra lessons in 2020 to make up for missed time.

Another strategy is to provide the most disadvantaged students individualised attention by breaking them up into smaller breakout groups or providing one-on-one tutoring. There was a government announcement in the United Kingdom that £350 million ($490 million) will be given to the creation of a National Tutoring Programme to help pupils who are falling behind. The School for Life initiative in Ghana makes use of peer tutoring to help pupils advance further in their education. Tutoring programmes for underprivileged pupils have previously been launched in Italian middle schools by university students who volunteer their time. So far, the result has been positive. Students’ academic performance is improving, and socio-emotional skills and psychological well-being have increased as a result, particularly among students from immigrant families.

Another option is to enroll in accelerated education programmes, which condense several years of education into a few months. These programmes were created for kids whose learning was interrupted or just never began due to conflict, poverty, or marginalisation. With the Ethiopian Speed Education Model, the first three years of elementary school can be completed in as little as nine to ten months. Untouchable Musahar girls in Nepal benefit from a nine-month acceleration programme that helps them catch up; over 80 percent of them go on to attend regular schools after the programme is over.

All of these strategies necessitate greater financial support for schooling. According to the Institute for Fiscal Studies in the United Kingdom, the £1.5 billion ($2.1 billion) pledged by the Department for Education is insufficient to assist the most vulnerable kids. Global education expenditures are being slashed, which is creating a problem. Since the outbreak of the epidemic, two-thirds of low- and lower-middle-income nations have reduced their public education budgets, compared to one-third of upper-middle and high-income countries. As economic pressures mount and development assistance is stretched thin, financing education could run into severe problems, worsening huge pre-COVID-19 education funding imbalances.

According to a global “Survey on National Education Responses to COVID-19 School Closures” conducted by UNESCO, UNICEF, the World Bank, and the OECD, approximately one-third of the countries where school systems are or have been stopped have not yet implemented remedial programmes following COVID-19 school closures. The reality is a grim one, with such circumstances and needs to be looked into immediately.

National problems differ, but countries have a range of choices for dealing with pandemic shocks, recovering, and laying the groundwork for reestablishing better, more resilient, and egalitarian education systems. Returning to education should be a top priority right now. It’s vital that children and teens get back into the learning process, whether through successful remote learning, hybrid choices, or reverting to tried-and-true in-person teaching methods. The finest of old-school and new-school approaches might be combined with ongoing experimentation and fine-tuning to make up for what is lost in the education arena. Times like this necessitate innovative answers.

– Uttara Jantwal

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