School-age children worldwide suffered significant setbacks during the Covid-19 pandemic and have still not caught up, posing “a real problem for this generation,” researchers warned on Monday.
Children experienced learning deficits equivalent to roughly one-third of a school year’s worth of knowledge and skills during the pandemic, and they are still struggling to recover from those losses more than two years later, a new global analysis found.
The Covid-19 pandemic caused one of the greatest disruptions to education in history, with school closures affecting 95 percent of students worldwide and online learning becoming far more common.
The analysis, published Monday in the journal Nature Human Behavior and drawing on data from 15 countries, provided the most comprehensive account to date of the academic hardships wrought by the pandemic.
The study found that children aged between five and 18 had lost the equivalent of 35 percent of a normal year’s worth of education.
Learning delays and regressions were most severe in developing countries and among students from low-income families, worsening existing disparities and threatening to follow children into higher education and the labor force, researchers warned.
“Education inequality between children from different socioeconomic backgrounds increased during the pandemic. So the learning crisis is an equality crisis,” said the study’s lead author Bastian Betthauser, a researcher at France’s Sciences Po university.
The researchers also found larger “learning deficits” for maths than for reading.
“This may be due to parents being better able to help their children with reading compared to maths exercises,” Betthauser told a press briefing.
Most of the learning deficits came during school closures when in-person learning stopped during the public health crisis.
Efforts by children, parents, schools and governments since may have prevented further losses but have not made up for the lost ground, the study said.
“Education is one of – if not the – key predictor for children’s school-to-work transition, their success in the labour market, their success in building up their own livelihoods,” Betthauser said.
“This is potentially going to be a real problem for this generation that experienced the pandemic in school,” he said.
The researchers examined and analysed data from 42 studies conducted in 15 countries: Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Colombia, Denmark, Germany, Italy, Mexico, the Netherlands, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
More research is needed to understand the scale of the problem going forward, particularly in less developed countries, they added.
The researchers also called for governments to take up policy initiatives to help this generation recover their losses.
“I get the sense that maybe attention is diverted away a little bit by other current events, and it’s important that we remember that these learning deficits are still there,” Betthauser said.