Entry by Ivonne Acevedo, Eleno Castro, Raquel Fernández, Iván Flores, Marcelo Pérez Alfaro, Miguel Székely, and Pablo Zoido.
If someone at some point thought that the pandemic was affecting us all in the same way, it soon became clear that we do not face the storm from the same boat. Anyone, regardless of age, profession, socioeconomic status or celebrity, can contract the disease, but it is also clear that the most vulnerable are those who have suffered and will suffer the most from the crises caused by this pandemic.
The virus has caused millions of cases and deaths around the world; it has also had a myriad of negative impacts in many other areas including education. Here, too, the impacts have been more severe for the most vulnerable because of their precarious economic situation, lack of educational resources at home, connectivity, devices or family members with time to support schoolwork.
In this context, a central question facing governments now is: what can we do to mitigate the negative impacts of the crisis on education for the most vulnerable children and young people? To answer this question, it is essential to know how many are being affected and what key characteristics they share. Only then can effective policies be designed to mitigate these costs.
According to the study “The educational costs of the health crisis in Latin America and the Caribbean”, by the Inter-American Development Bank and the Center for Educational and Social Studies, at least 1.2 million young people could be excluded from their systems education in Latin America and the Caribbean, due to the consequences of the pandemic. This number would represent an increase of at least 15% in the educational exclusion rate in the region (defined as the percentage of young people and children of school age whose households report that they do not attend school regularly), with respect to the high exclusion that It had already been observed: 7.7 million young people and children, before the pandemic.
The study also emphasizes that the increase in educational exclusion because of the pandemic will have a greater impact on the most vulnerable families, and therefore will accentuate the pre-existing educational and social inequalities. Most children and young people excluded as a result of the pandemic (977,000) belong to families living in poverty (38%) and from the vulnerable middle class (44%). In relative terms, the emerging middle class of the last decade, which had managed to significantly reduce absenteeism, will be one of the groups that will suffer the increases of educational exclusion in the region.
One of the most alarming conclusions of our study is that this increase in educational exclusion will reverse some of the most important educational achievements of the last decade. Between 2010 and 2018, the last year with available data, the rate of educational exclusion of young people between 15 and 17 years of age in the region had decreased steadily, from 24% to 19%, which implied the inclusion of almost 1.5 million young people in the educational systems. However, this decreasing trajectory in exclusion will be interrupted due to the pandemic, reaching 22% of children and young people in 2020, 4 percentage points more than expected if the trend observed since 2010 had been maintained.
On the other hand, the pandemic will also have important consequences on the ability of young people to find work, given the economic slowdown that is already affecting several countries and impacting the number of young people neither at school nor at work (at least with formal employment). The crisis will add 3 million young people between 18 and 23 years of age to the 13 million who were already excluded from the education system and out of the labor market before the pandemic, an increase of 21%. Another long-term consequence of the loss of educational and work opportunities for these young people of the “COVID Generation” is an estimated reduction of 6.1% in their salary over the next 20 years.
What policy alternatives exist to mitigate these high costs of the pandemic in education? To mitigate academic costs, the study suggests combining a gradual and safe reopening of schools (including adequate sanitary conditions and leveling learning programs) with efforts that help lay the foundations for hybrid education models that include four key pillars (1) new pedagogies, (2) improvements in connectivity and equipment, (3) digital platforms with quality content, and (4) better data and information for student monitoring. Regarding the economic costs, it is critical to continue communicating about the returns to education, to reinforce monetary and non-monetary aid and incentives for students and families, and to strengthen the quality and relevance of secondary education, particularly technical-vocational education.
Facing the perfect storm, all young people in the region deserve a shelter that will help them cope successfully. Governments must urgently make investments to preserve the achievements of a successful decade. Preventing education from becoming another victim of the pandemic will require extraordinary capacities for adaptation, creativity, management and collaborative work in all Latin American and Caribbean countries.
What measures are being taken in your country to mitigate the educational costs of the pandemic in children and young people? Share your opinion in the comment section below or on Twitter mentioning @BIDEducacion #EnfoqueEducacion.