By Dr. Gyan Pathak
At current value, the students of the world would lose their lifetime earning to the tune of $17 trillion, which far exceeds the $10 trillion estimated a year ago, indicating that the global education crisis due to closure of schools during the COVID-19 pandemic is far worse than expected.
This quantified projection in terms of money is only one of the aspect of the findings of “The State of the Global Education Crisis: A Path to recovery” jointly published by the World Bank, UNESCO, and UNICEF. It may be mentioned here that the pandemic had shut down schools across the world, disrupting education for 1.6 billion students at its peak.
Regional evidence from countries such as India, Pakistan, South Africa, Mexico, and Brazil detail even substantial losses in learning maths and reading skills, sometimes roughly proportional to the length of school closures. Education inequities have clearly worsened with children from low-income households, those with disabilities, as well as girls, less likely to access remote learning. Additionally, younger students had less access to remote learning and were more affected by learning loss than other counterparts, especially pre-school age children.
The report has found that there was also diversity across countries, and by subject, students’ socioeconomic status, gender, and grade level. Furthermore, the most marginalized or vulnerable students were disproportionately impacted.
On seriousness of the crisis, World Bank’s Global Director for Education Jaime Saavedra has said that the educations systems across the world were brought to a halt by the pandemic, and now more than 20 months later millions of children remain shut out of school, while others may never return in their classrooms. Additionally the report says that the share of children living in “learning poverty” could jump from 53 per cent to 70 per cent in low and middle-income countries.
Mr Saavedra has said that the loss of learning that many children are experiencing is morally unacceptable, and the potential increase of “learning poverty” might have a devastating impact on future productivity, earnings, and well-being for this generation of children and youth, their families, and the world’s economies.
Then there are also other losses. Progress made for children and youth in other domains has stagnated or reversed. During school closures, children’s health and safety was jeopardized, with domestic violence and child labour increasing. More than 370 million children globally missed out on school meals, losing what is for some children the only reliable source of food and daily nutrition. The mental health crisis among young people has reached unprecedented levels.
UNICEF Director of Education, Robert Jenkins has warned of the risks of inaction and called for not only reopening schools but also keeping them open. Talking about the exacerbated gender divide he said, “In some countries, we’re seeing greater learning losses among girls and an increase in their risk of facing child labour, gender-based violence, early marriage, and pregnancy.”
Getting children’s education back on track, therefore, must be a top and urgent priority on which their future depends, the report has emphasized while underling the need for greater funding. It found the government stimulus packages allocated to education not enough to handle the crisis which was even less than three per cent.
Robert Jenkins has talked not only about reopening of schools and keeping them open a top priority for the governments but also implementing “Learning Recovery Programmes” to ensure students in this generation to attain at least the same competencies as their predecessors. At the same time, techniques like targeted instruction can support learning recovery, meaning teachers can align instruction to the learning levels of students, he said.
UNESCO Assistant Director-General for Education, Stefania Giannini, has rightly underscored the need for government action. “With government leadership and support from the international community, there is a great deal that can be done to make systems more equitable, efficient, and resilient, capitalizing on lessons learned throughout the pandemic and on increasing investment,” she said.
Clearly, the world needs more resilient education systems for the long term, and to build as such, the report has called for the countries to consider taking steps such as investing in the enabling environment to unlock the potential of digital learning opportunities for all students. Share of education must be increased in the national budgets and stimulus packages.
Beyond addressing learning losses, the report says that addressing children’s socioemotional losses is essential. It is a priority area, but this will happen only if teachers are adequately equipped and trained to support the holistic needs of children. All teachers should be supported and prepared for remedial education, mental health and psychological support, and remote learning.
The report also calls for improving systems to generate timely and reliable data critical to evaluate policy responses and generate lessons learned for the next disruption to education. Accelerate learning and make schools more efficient, equitable, and resilient, the report calls for. (IPA Service)