The projection is one of the findings of The State of the Global Education Crisis: A Road to Recovery, issued by the World Bank, the United Nations Organization for Education, Culture and Science (UNESCO) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).
That’s how much this generation of students is at risk of losing their lifetime earnings as a result of school closures due to COVID-19.
— UNICEF (@UNICEF) December 6, 2021
The figure is calculated in present value, which amounts to about 14 percent of the current gross domestic product (GDP).
It far exceeds $10 trillion estimates from a year ago, showing the impact is more severe than previously thought.
Loss ‘morally unacceptable’
The pandemic brought education systems around the world to a standstill, said Jaime Saavedra, the World Bank’s Global Director for Education. More than 20 months later, millions of children remain locked out of school, while others may never return.
Furthermore, the report shows that in low- and middle-income countries, the proportion of children living in “learning poverty” could rise from 53 percent to 70 percent.
“The learning loss that many children experience is morally unacceptable,said Mr Saavedra.
“And the potential increase in ‘learning poverty’ could have a devastating impact on future productivity, income and well-being for this generation of children and young people, their families and the world’s economies.”
The report shows that real data now corroborates simulations that estimate that school closures have led to significant learning losses.
Education inequality worsens
Regional evidence from countries such as Brazil, Pakistan, India, South Africa and Mexico indicates significant losses in math and reading skills, sometimes roughly proportional to the length of school closures.
There was also diversity across countries and by subject, socio-economic status, gender and grade of students.
However, evidence from around the world suggests that the pandemic has exacerbated inequalities in education, with children from low-income households, people with disabilities and girls less likely to access distance learning.
In addition, younger students had less access to distance learning and were more affected by learning loss than older counterparts, especially children of preschool age.
In addition, the most marginalized or vulnerable students, among others, were disproportionately affected.
Robert Jenkins, UNICEF Director of Education, called for schools to reopen and keep open, “to erase the scars on this generation” while warning of the risks of doing nothing.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has closed schools around the world, disrupted education for 1.6 billion students at its peak and exacerbated the gender gap,” he said.
“In some countries, we are seeing greater girls’ learning losses and an increased risk of child labour, gender-based violence, early marriage and pregnancy.”
With less than three percent of government stimulus packages for education, the report highlights the need for more funding.
Re-opening schools should remain a top priority worldwide, while countries should implement learning recovery programs to ensure that students of this generation acquire at least the same competencies as their predecessors.
At the same time, techniques such as targeted instruction can support learning recovery, meaning that teachers can tailor instruction to the learning level of the students.
Resilient Education Systems
Stefania Giannini, UNESCO’s Deputy Director-General for Education, underlined the need for government action.
“With government leadership and support from the international community, much can be done to make systems more equitable, efficient and resilient, using lessons learned during the pandemic and increasing investment.” she said, stressing that priority should be given to children and young people.
To build more resilient education systems for the long term, the report calls on countries to consider taking steps such as investing in an enabling environment to unlock the potential of digital learning opportunities for all students.
The role of parents, families and communities in children’s learning also needs to be strengthened.
At the same time, teachers should have support and access to quality professional development opportunities, while increasing the share of education in the national budget allocation of stimulus packages.