Schools have reopened in regions across the globe, and for many students and teachers alike, school finally feels much the way it did before the COVID-19 pandemic began.
The return to “normal” comes after several years of school closures, remote learning, canceled events, and other disruptions to the academic calendar. But as families settle back into the welcome return of normalcy, it is important to remember that school closures have hit some communities harder, and for longer, than others.
The time students have spent out of the classroom threatens to have lasting developmental, social, and economic consequences for an entire generation. What will post-COVID education look like, and what can be done to help schools prepare for future disruptions and help students recover from learning losses?
Before and after COVID: the academic effects of empty classrooms.
UNESCO estimates that, as of March 2022, students have missed a combined two trillion hours of in-person learning globally since the beginning of the pandemic. 405 million schoolchildren in 23 countries still had not returned to in-person learning as of spring of this year.
One recent study found that, in four out of five countries, students have suffered measurable learning losses since the beginning of the pandemic. Students in Pakistan were found to have lost the equivalent of between 0.3 and 0.8 years of learning, while more than 80 percent of students in India were found to have lost at least one specific math ability and one specific language ability as compared to the previous school year.
Missing days in school has an impact on students that extends beyond education. For many, school is also a place that provides safety, socialization, access to healthcare resources, and a reliable meal. School nutrition programs serve approximately 370 million children worldwide, and the pandemic led to an estimated 30 percent reduction in essential nutritional services in low and middle-income countries.
Even where schools have reopened, the disruptions have had a lasting impact on students, with estimates suggesting that the current generation of students risks losing as much as $17 trillion in total lifetime income because of educational losses and school closures.
The impacts of school closures aren´t shared equally.
Educational setbacks stemming from school closures in recent years have only deepened existing divides between students from high and low-income families and communities. Studies conducted in Mexico and Ethiopia, for example, show that low-income students have fallen further behind in reading and math than their higher-income counterparts.
There are many complex causes behind this gap. Families with fewer resources have less income available for school fees, books, supplies, and transportation. Students without adequate nutrition have a harder time focusing on schoolwork and suffer from worse overall health. And families struggling to make ends meet sometimes rely on school-aged children to earn extra income by working – a problem only worsened for families facing illness, death, or job loss.
What can we do to get students back on track?
The worldwide scope of learning losses can make the path to post-COVID recovery seem daunting. But groups like UNESCO that have studied the situation in-depth make several recommendations about how nations around the globe can help students and school systems recover from extended school closures and begin to make up for lost time.
Schools need adequate funding to help students recover from learning losses. The share of both international development assistance and humanitarian aid that went toward education fell during the pandemic, and on average countries directed only 3 percent of their COVID stimulus packages to keeping students enrolled and engaged despite the hurdles. Without more resources, schools will face an uphill battle in providing the tools, expertise, and attention students need to succeed in a post-COVID world.
Recovery plans should not stop at getting schools “back to normal”. School systems must be able to adapt to changing needs without losing valuable classroom time. Teachers, administrators, and students alike need to be equipped with the resources and training necessary to continue teaching and learning despite extraordinary circumstances, including e-learning and digital learning resources, stable internet connections, and support for their mental health to improve overall wellbeing.
Ria + Save the Children.
At Ria, we believe that we share the responsibility of helping get students around the world back on track. That’s one of the reasons why we’ve joined forces with Save the Children — to drive positive change and improve the lives of vulnerable children worldwide.
In addition to emergency appeals that channel donations to areas of urgent need around the world, Ria´s partnership with Save the Children also includes investment in longer-term social intervention projects aimed at supporting at-risk children and their families. Two of those initiatives are poised to make an early and lasting impact on students.
In the Philippines, Ria and Save the Children will help ensure that nearly 9,000 boys and girls have access to quality, safe, uninterrupted education by providing school supplies and hygiene kits, furniture for temporary learning spaces to help ensure that kids displaced by disaster are able to continue learning, and training staff to spot signs of abuse and take action to protect students.
And in Mexico City, Ria and Save the Children will contribute to early-childhood education for more than 2,000 vulnerable children between the ages of 0 and 6 through preschool teacher training, learning materials aimed at helping kids master age-appropriate reading and math skills, and even an educational podcast for parents.
Supporting education is just one of the many ways this partnership promises to make a lasting positive impact on vulnerable children around the world. Find more information about our partnership with Save the Children and how you can be a part of it on our blog.
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