As well as not learning new skills, children also forgot things they had previously mastered. For example, a study from Azim Premji University in Bengalaru, India, across 1,137 schools in five Indian states, found 92 per cent of primary school age children had lost at least one specific linguistic ability, and 82 per cent one mathematical ability, during Covid-19.
Schools in both Brazil and India have remained at least partially closed for much of the pandemic.
Lee Crawfurd, an education expert at the Centre for Global Development, said the results showed the importance of in-person education.
“There’s something about being in school that is really valuable, even if the average kid may not learn that much. It’s one of the most robust findings in economics – there is a 10 per cent earnings bump for every year spent in school,” he said.
His research, in countries including Pakistan and Sierra Leone, has also suggested an impact on academic performance from the closures. However, more positively, drop-out rates have remained low.
That’s a similar picture in a study from Ethiopia by the global research group Rise, which found that the 3,050 11-year old children studied had only made at best half as much progress remotely as they would have made had they been in school. In total, 87 per cent of them returned to the classroom.
The key question now is what the long-term impact will be. Mr Crawfurd worries not enough is being done to help students bridge the schooling gap.
“Globally, we have failed to seize the opportunity to help children catch up,” he said, stressing he has seen no sign of major initiatives. “It’s a hard sell for the ministries of finance – the benefits will pay off in twenty years.”