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Students risk losing $17trn in lifetime earnings to COVID-19, says report

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THE World Bank-UNESCO-UNICEF report has laid out the magnitude of the education crisis, stating that present generation of students now risk losing $17 trillion in lifetime earnings in present value, or about 14 per cent of today’s global GDP as a result of COVID-19 pandemic-related school closures. 

According to the new report published on Monday, the new projection reveals that the impact is more severe than previously thought, and far exceeds the $10 trillion estimates released in 2020. 

It noted that in addition, “The State of the Global Education Crisis: A Path to Recovery” report shows that in low – and middle – income countries, the share of children living in Learning Poverty – already 53 per cent before the pandemic – could potentially reach 70 per cent given the long school closures and the ineffectiveness of remote learning to ensure full learning continuity during school closures. 

Jaime Saavedra, World Bank Global Director for Education, said “The COVID-19 crisis brought education systems across the world to a halt,” adding that “Now, 21 months later, schools remain closed for millions of children, and others may never return to school. 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 youths, their families, and the world’s economies.” 

According to the report, simulations estimating that school closures resulted in significant learning losses are now being corroborated by real data. 

It reads “For example, regional evidence from Brazil, Pakistan, rural India, South Africa, and Mexico, among others, show substantial losses in math and reading. Analysis shows that in some countries, on average, learning losses are roughly proportional to the length of the closures. 

“However, there was great heterogeneity across countries and by subject, students’ socioeconomic status, gender, and grade level. For example, results from two states in Mexico show significant learning losses in reading and in math for students aged 10- 15. 

“The estimated learning losses were greater in math than reading, and affected younger learners, students from low-income backgrounds, as well as girls disproportionately”, said the Report. 

It also noted that “Barring a few exceptions, the general trends from emerging evidence around the world align with the findings from Mexico, suggesting that the crisis has exacerbated inequities in education: 

“Children from low-income households, children with disabilities, and girls were less likely to access remote learning than their peers. This was often due to lack of accessible technologies and the availability of electricity, connectivity, and devices, as well as discrimination and gender norms. 

“Younger students had less access to remote learning and were more affected by learning loss than older students, especially among pre-school age children in pivotal learning and development stages. 

“The detrimental impact on learning has disproportionately affected the most marginalised or vulnerable. Learning losses were greater for students of lower socioeconomic status in countries like Ghana, Mexico, and Pakistan. 

“Initial evidence points to larger losses among girls, as they are quickly losing the protection that schools and learning offers to their well-being and life chances”. 

UNICEF Director of Education Robert Jenkins said, “The COVID-19 pandemic shut down schools across the world, disrupting education for 1.6 billion students at its peak, and exacerbated the gender divide. In some countries, we’re seeing greater learning losses among girls and an increase in their risk of facing child labour, genderbased violence, early marriage, and pregnancy. To stem the scars on this generation, we must reopen schools and keep them open, target outreach to return learners to school, and accelerate learning recovery.” 

The report highlights that, to date, less than three percent of governments’ stimulus packages have been allocated to education. Much more funding will be needed for immediate learning recovery. 

The report also notes that while nearly every country in the world offered remote learning opportunities for students, the quality and reach of such initiatives differed – in most cases, they offered, at best, a rather partial substitute for in-person instruction. 

More than 200 million learners live in low- and lower middle-income countries that are unprepared to deploy remote learning during emergency school closure.

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