SEATTLE, Washington — Access to education has never been a given. In 2018, more than 250 million children were not in school during their primary and secondary education years. Currently, there are about 1.5 billion children out of school because of the coronavirus pandemic. More than 188 countries have implemented school closures as a means to slow the spread of the virus. COVID-19 exacerbated and highlighted the inequalities within our world. While school closures have been essential to protecting the health of many school-aged children, it is vital to explore the various ways COVID-19 impacted education in order to build better school systems that account for these inequalities. Here are five ways COVID-19 impacts education.
5 Ways COVID-19 Impacts Education
- Learning: In the U.S., schools typically take off about three months of school for summer break. Research shows that this break causes students’ scores to decrease by the worth of one month of in-school learning. Due to COVID-19, students around the world had a break of about five to seven months, depending on the country. The time out of school is worse for low-income children or those living in low and middle-income countries. Low-income children often have access to fewer resources that could help them continue their education. Remote learning is not possible for more than 460 million children. Additionally, many low-income children have parents who are not around to help them learn because they work in essential occupations. In 2019, 53% of 10-year-olds were unable to read and understand the written text in low and middle-income countries. This number will only increase during the ongoing pandemic. Additionally, past epidemics, such as HIV in Kenya, indicate that children who lose their parents to disease are much more likely to drop out of school altogether. Without consistent and accessible exposure to education, children’s learning is at risk.
- Nutrition: Another way COVID-19 impacts education includes nutritional deficiencies due to a lack of school-provided meals. In countries with higher rates of obesity, school meals often provide children with a healthier option. This helps to lower obesity rates and ensures that children are appropriately fueled to continue learning throughout the day. School meal services are particularly important for low-income children because they do not always have access to nutritious food at home. School meals are essential in low and middle-income countries where populations experience food insecurity and undernutrition. The World Food Program estimated that about 310 million children were fed at school. These meals also work as incentives for keeping children in school and serve as a financial relief for families.
- Lack of Internet Access: During the pandemic, about two-thirds of countries have begun implementing online learning programs. However, only about 30% of low-income countries have been able to do this. Access to technology and the internet is limited in many low and middle-income countries as well as among low-income students. Without access to online materials, disadvantaged students will simply fall behind even more. Some wealthier countries and school districts have been working to provide online materials to students. Other less affluent countries have begun thinking of new and more accessible ways to continue education. Often, radio and television are more widely available, so teachers and schools have started using that to reach students.
- Lack of Inclusive Learning: Other concerns about how COVID-19 impacts education revolve around those who require special assistance in their learning. Students with disabilities are already more likely to have “lower educational achievements.” During the pandemic, this is likely to worsen. Online learning may not be accessible or viable options for those with specific learning needs. Additionally, online technology may lack features needed to become accessible for students with disabilities. Often, schools provide the needed learning assistance, which greatly improves a student’s ability to learn. Without access to essential services, students with disabilities will be left behind.
- Parental Strain: With online learning at home, many parents struggle to balance their own work lives while also helping their children. It’s difficult for younger children to focus on online lessons by themselves, so parents have to keep their children engaged while also attempting to get their own work done. This situation is also extremely stressful for parents that are essential workers. They have no option but to leave their kids during this uncertain time of learning.
COVID-19 impacts education in various and profound ways, but many view this as an opportunity to examine and rebuild education systems. Dr. Reville, a professor at the Harvard graduate school of education, explains how essential it is for school systems to look at the entirety of a child’s life to ensure quality education for everyone. COVID-19 has highlighted the inequalities found in education and it’s time for school systems to begin accounting for this to help all children succeed as much as possible.
– Paige Wallace