Enrichment Education

The pandemic has caused the worst education crisis on record: report

Mirjana Ristic/ iStock

Story at a glance

  • A new report has found school closures across the world have resulted in significant learning loss for students.
  • In Texas, only 30 percent of third graders tested at or above grade level in math in 2021.
  • The report estimated that at least 463 million children globally could not be reached by digital and broadcast remote learning programs during school closures.

The coronavirus pandemic is causing alarmingly high learning losses in areas like math and reading around the world, according to a new report that describes this disruption as the worst education crisis ever recorded. 

Unicef, UNESCO and The World Bank partnered to study the effects of the coronavirus pandemic on school children around the world. The results were published in a new report, and researchers attributed school closures as one of the biggest factors in disrupting children’s education across the board from low-income to high-income countries. 

The report details how schools were forced to quickly adapt curriculum to an online learning environment, but many times without the proper resources or training for teachers. The transition ended up disproportionately hurting marginalized students who didn’t have consistent or sufficient access to educational necessities like laptops, internet connection or caregiver support. 

Globally, at least 463 million children could not be reached by digital and broadcast remote learning programs during school closures, according to the report, with 3 out of 4 unreached students coming from rural areas and/or poor households. Lower-income countries tended to have higher shares of students not reached by remote learning measures than higher-income countries. 

Despite institutions’ best efforts to establish a variety of remote learning options, the report found that, “the deployment, uptake, and effectiveness of such programs has varied greatly, and in most countries, offered an inadequate substitute for in-person learning.” 


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Traces of education loss have been reported in the U.S., with one analysis finding high school graduation rates dipped across the country, with variations across states. Educators noted that even for the students who did earn a high school diploma in 2021, they worry that they didn’t get the most out of their education because of pandemic-induced shutdowns and challenges, like remote learning. 

UNICEF’s report defined learning loss as “any loss of knowledge or skills and/or deceleration of or interruption to academic progress, most commonly from extended gaps or discontinuities in a student’s education.” 

Learning loss was evident across the world, with the report finding students in the U.K. showed reading loss in 2020 that amounted to two months’ worth of learning. Data from an eight-week school shutdown in the Netherlands found learning loss equivalent to 20 percent of a school year. 

The U.S. also had multiple regions of documented learning loss. In Texas, 30 percent of third graders tested at or above grade level in math in 2021 — it was 48 percent in 2019. Similar losses were recorded in California, Colorado, Tennessee, North Carolina, Ohio,  Virginia and Maryland. 

“The youngest learners faced a double disadvantage, often left out of remote learning and school reopening plans,” said the report. 

An estimated 167 million children in 196 countries lost access to early childhood care and education services between March 2020 and February 2021. Only 60 percent of countries indicated they had remote learning options for pre-primary students, in comparison to 95 percent that had options for primary and secondary students. 

Researchers noted that evidence from past emergencies has documented evidence that school closures often do long-term damage, with affected children having lower education attainment, lower earnings and higher unemployment in adulthood. 

Some evidence even shows that part of the long-term losses is attributable to slower learning once children are back in school. 


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