SEATTLE, Washington — While the world is still grappling with the immediate consequences of COVID-19 through vaccine distribution, healthcare reform and strongly enforced social regulations, education is yet another area that requires a comprehensive solution. Global learning loss is a critical impact of COVID-19 that has far-reaching consequences.
The Great COVID-19 Disruption
The world has made decades of progress in education, achieving the highest enrollment rates in history. With the onset of COVID-19, students now face the most unprecedented challenges to education. Facing the threat of the pandemic, temporary school closures have kept 1.6 billion students out of school in 2020. Furthermore, 72 million children are currently at risk of learning poverty. Such a prospect may cause the COVID-19 healthcare crisis to transform into an education crisis.
The closures resulting in global learning loss have hurt the most disadvantaged children in unparalleled ways. This is concerning because there is insurmountable evidence demonstrating the correlation between access to education and an individual’s economic position in society. Education is a proven method of breaking the cycle of poverty.
In fact, the completion of secondary education alone has shown efficacy in the reduction of poverty rates. According to UNESCO, if all adults completed secondary education, approximately 420 million people could be lifted out of poverty. These effects are both direct and indirect. A direct effect might include more prospective employment opportunities while an indirect effect might take place in the stabilization of social dynamics within a society, translating into stability in the economy.
A New Threat
As schools have been forced to adapt their modalities of learning within such a short period of time, many have not been adequately prepared for the adoption of the new mechanisms required for the transition. In order to successfully conduct learning in the age of COVID-19, internet and technology access is vital. Proper institutional funding by the state aids in this transition.
Unfortunately, in the case of developing nations, most students do not have access to any of these mechanisms. The most impoverished nations are dealing with the financial burden of COVID-19 on already insecure economies, meaning there is no financial provision available for innovations in education systems.
The current school generation risks losing $10 trillion worth of labor earnings over their work lifetime as a result of school closures and related global learning loss. Without proper intervention, children experiencing poverty will fall significantly behind the educational standards and will therefore continue the cycle of poverty.
Bangladesh is just one of many unfortunate cases. With 42 million Bangladeshi children affected by the school closures and 63% of those children without access to the internet, remote learning is next to impossible. While there are programs that utilize television platforms for nationwide education broadcasting, it is not nearly at the level of engagement that these children require to meet the minimum proficiency.
Fortunately, the crisis is not going unnoticed. World organizations and nonprofits are implementing initiatives to combat global learning loss. For example, in 2020, UNESCO launched the Global Education Coalition, which works with governments to address learning loss amid school closures through a focus on the improvement of connectivity, teacher support and educational recovery. The coalition commits to offering free and stable management and technological tools to promote learning within the most negatively affected countries.
Education Cannot Wait (ECW), a multilateral global fund founded during the World Humanitarian Summit in 2016, is working in accordance with the efforts of UNESCO’s Global Education Coalition. ECW identifies countries and regions most affected by the pandemic and provides monetary support to respond to the educational needs of the affected students, addressing students’ immediate and long-term needs. Furthermore, by recognizing the inaccessibility of some of the necessary tools for remote education, ECW collaborates with innovators to come up with creative solutions to ensure children are receiving suitable support to emerge from the pandemic with hope still intact.
Education as a Global Right
While global learning loss is one of many consequences of the pandemic, the consequences of global learning loss should not be underestimated. It is absolutely essential to extend the tools of learning to the affected generation in order to secure a future for the next. There is a chance for educational progress to continue if global education is seen as a right and not a privilege.
– Alessandra Parker