Seen and unseen effects of COVID-19 school disorders
Seen and unseen effects of COVID-19 school disorders

Seen and unseen effects of COVID-19 school disorders

On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization COVID-19 declared a pandemic. To emphasize the seriousness of the situation, most countries closed their schools for months to minimize the spread of coronavirus and to prevent overcrowding in hospitals. Two years later, students and teachers return to personal education with some anxiety over the spread of coronavirus variants.

Educators, policy makers, parents and students have been concerned about the impact of school closures on learning and socialization. World Bank President David Malpass said that “The pandemic has caused the greatest loss of human capital in memory of and the worst educational crisis in a century“Unfortunately, this huge loss of human capital could lead to major labor market impacts in the future.

The unseen nature of the training staff

In many ways, the effects on the labor market will be unseen. None of the currently affected students will look at their paychecks in the future and see a pandemic tax cut. No national income account will reflect the magnitude of the loss, even if it quietly accumulates over time. Yet the loss will not be less real for being unseen. The French economist, politician and journalist Frédéric Bastiat thought that was it one’s social responsibility to point out the unseen losses in public political debates.

Fulfilling our social responsibility by measuring the future unseen effect of the pandemic-related school closures is not easy. Some of the biggest measurement difficulties come from the time differences between education shocks and their consequences – a problem identified by Alfred Marshall as long ago as 1890. The results of education decisions today, whether made by policy makers or families, are inherently only measurable after a long time, when very little can often be done to correct past mistakes. In other words, one must either be very patient or have an ingenious research design to measure the impacts.

Estimation of the cost of school disorders: Top down and bottom up

Researchers often use models with a small number of variables to quantify the likely impact of COVID-19-related school closures on people’s future incomes. This top-down approach is usually based on informed assumptions about average missed school years due to the pandemic, estimated return to school, and other parameters, such as mitigating effects of distance learning. The approach reduces a complex world to fairly simple aggregated models. But the complex features are often unrecognizable, making the top-down approach the best possible way to simulate future effects of a shock (two examples of studies using this approach: one; thaw).

The key problem with the top-down approach is that it ignores bottom-up feedback effects: the mitigating factors that parents and students adopt when schools close. Even under normal circumstances, families play a major role in the upbringing of children. But under extraordinary circumstances like the pandemic, family arrangements tend to increase in importance. For example, family members’ mentoring schemes, private tutoring schemes, and out-of-school online courses were likely to play an important, albeit unknown, mitigating role during the pandemic.

A bottom-up estimate of the cost of the school disruption

ONE new World Bank paper uses a previous episode of school closure – in Kuwait during the Gulf War (when Iraq invaded Kuwait) – to assess the long-term impact of the current pandemic shock on affected students, who will end up working in Kuwait’s civil service, the main employment choice for Kuwaiti citizens. The school closure due to the Gulf War is analytically useful because it happened almost 30 years ago, so all the bottom-up feedback effects on labor market outcomes have already been exhausted. This previous closure also has many similarities with the current pandemic-related school disruption, allowing us to estimate the lost wages due to the pandemic-related education shock.

When Iraq invaded Kuwait and started the Gulf War, schools closed for the 1990/91 school year. As a result, many students in Kuwait lost access to formal schooling, and only a few students who emigrated could continue their education abroad. The following school year, when the schools opened, was used to restore damaged school infrastructure and speed up schooling to allow students to catch up. Nevertheless, the interruption led to lower achievement in the form of average school years. The reduced performance was translated into long-term wage losses for affected Kuwaiti students.

The newspaper estimates that boys in primary school during the pandemic-related school closures could face a wage loss of more than $ 2,600 a year, and girls could lose more than $ 1,500 a year (Figure 1). Over the course of their working lives, the average present value of life income reduction could be more than $ 40,000 for the boys and nearly $ 21,000 for the girls. These are big losses. For context, monthly salaries for civil servants in 2019 include average annual salaries of $ 62,000 for Kuwaiti men and $ 47,000 for Kuwaiti women.

Unfortunately, the results are both reassuring and disturbing. They are reassuring because the magnitude of the estimated income losses is consistent with the top-down surveys. Worryingly, the predicted losses are likely to be large and long-lasting, putting enormous pressure on policy makers struggling to curb the virus and grow their economies.

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