The IDB calls on the public and private sectors to take action and invest in education to address the region’s learning crisis and its aggravation by the COVID-19 pandemic
More than two years since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, today we now know that the costs of the prolonged closure of schools are very high. The consequences may not be evident in the short term, but will have a very high impact on various aspects of the lives of future adults and the next generations. During these two years in which education has been interrupted, we have been able to identify different effects on students such as learning losses, school dropout, teenage pregnancies and a deterioration in mental health. If this is what has happened after two years, what will happen in a few more years if we do not act now to recover what children lost during the closure of their schools?
In recent history, we have seen cases in which children’s school attendance has been interrupted by natural phenomena, epidemics, teachers’ strikes, wars and conflicts. Academics and researchers have studied the consequences, showing us some of the scenarios that could occur without action to correct the current course of education.
In addition, studies carried out in the last two years have estimated the effects that the pandemic could have in different areas if we fail to address the educational crisis we are now experiencing.
Four findings and prognoses: what the pandemic left behind
1. Learning losses
- In Sao Paulo, Brazil, a study showed that a three-week closure of schools due to an outbreak of H1N1 influenza led to a drop in students’ math scores, affecting more severely those schools with the worst results in the national evaluation system.
- According to an estimate of learning losses caused by the current pandemic, a closure of 3.5 to 10 weeks can lead to a decline of between 0.05 and 0.19 standard deviations in math achievement and, in reading, of between 0.05 and 0.29.
2. Loss of future income
- A study in Argentina showed that the loss of 88 days of classes due to teachers’ strikes implied a 3% decrease in the students’ wages when they reached an age of between 30 and 40 years.
- The Inter-American Development Bank estimated that young people in Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Mexico and Argentina would lose 11% of their labor income throughout their lives if nothing is done to mitigate the impact of learning loss.
3. School dropout
- A study in Mexico shows that, among young people who have interrupted their educational pathway at some point, those from rich families are three times more likely to return to school than those from poorer families. In addition, the study found that, on average, only 27% of young people return to the school system after dropping out.
- It is estimated that some 7 million students around the world may drop out of school, this is equivalent to 0.5% of the world’s students. In Latin America, this implies that some 1.2 million students between the ages of 6 and 17 would leave the education system, an increase of 15% compared to before the pandemic.
4. Decreased social mobility
- Closing schools for a year can reduce the chance of children from lower-income families to move into the higher income bracket by between 2% and 3%. This effect intensifies with the age of the children since the cost to families of sending them to school also increases with age.
- A study that estimated learning losses as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic in 17 countries in the region indicated that, for students whose parents completed at least their secondary education, their learning loss would be around 10% while, for those whose parents have a lower educational level, the loss would be around 60%. According to the study, upper secondary school completion in the latter group would decrease by 20%, affecting educational and social mobility.
Investing in education: the response for post-COVID-19 recovery
Is there a solution to avoid these scenarios?
The answer is clear. Today more than ever, adequate and timely investment in education must be a fundamental part of the strategy to recover from the health crisis. We must prevent educational inequality from deepening further because, the longer we allow its consequences to persist, the more difficult it will be to reverse them.
As equality and social inclusion are two key elements in the IDB’s Vision 2025: “Reinvest in the Americas”, education and the improvement of students’ learning in the region are a fundamental step for the educational transformation and economic recovery with inclusive, equitable and sustainable growth for Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC).
What can the region’s countries do to invest more and better in their education systems? What possibilities do you imagine for improving your own school or education system?
Share your comments and learn more in our publication How to reboot education post-pandemic. Delivering on the promise of a better future for youth.