Children in poorest countries lost nearly four months of schooling since start of pandemic – UNESCO, UNICEF and World Bank report finds

Paris: Schoolchildren in low-and lower-middle-income countries have already lost nearly four months of schooling since the start of the pandemic, compared to six weeks of loss in high-income countries, according to a new report published today by UNESCO, UNICEF and the World Bank.

“The pandemic will notch up the funding gap for education in low and middle-income countries. By making the right investment choices now, rather than waiting, this gap could be significantly reduced,” said Stefania Giannini, UNESCO Assistant Director-General for Education. “At the Global Education Meeting convened by UNESCO with Ghana, Norway and the UK on 22 October , some 15 heads of state and government, close to 70 education ministers and development partners committed to protect education funding and act to safely reopen schools, support all teachers as frontline workers and narrow the digital divide. This holds us all to account,” she concluded.

“We don’t need to look far to see the devastation the pandemic has caused to children’s learning across the world. In low- and lower middle income countries, this devastation is magnified as limited access to remote learning, increased risks of budget cuts and delayed plans in reopening have thwarted any chance of normalcy for schoolchildren,” said Robert Jenkins UNICEF Chief of Education. “Prioritizing reopening schools and providing much-needed catch-up classes is critical.”

The report compiles findings from surveys on national education responses to COVID-19 collected by UNESCO and carried out in nearly 150 countries between June and October through funding provided by the Global Partnership for Education (GPE) as part of their accelerated funding response to the COVID-19 Pandemic. Schoolchildren in low- and lower-middle income countries were the least likely to access remote learning, the least likely to be monitored on their learning loss, the most likely to have delays to their schools reopening and the most likely to attend schools with inadequate resources to ensure safe operations, the report finds.

More than two-thirds of countries have fully or partially reopened their schools. However, 1 in 4 have missed their planned reopening date or not yet set a date for reopening, most of which are low- and lower-middle-income countries.
Only 1 in 5 low-income countries reported that remote learnings days count as official school days, recognizing the low-impact of remote learning measures, compared to three-quarters of countries globally.
Of 79 countries which responded to questions related to financing, nearly 20 per cent have either already experienced or anticipate decreases to their country’s education budget for the current or next fiscal year. This compares to nearly 40 per cent among low- and lower-middle-income countries.
While most countries reported that student learning is being monitored by teachers, a quarter of low- and lower-middle-income countries are not tracking children’s learning.
Half of respondents in low-income countries reported not having adequate funds for safety measures such as handwashing facilities, social distancing measures and protective equipment for students and teachers, compared to 5 per cent of high-income countries.
More than 90 per cent of countries have also taken measures to support schoolchildren at risk of being excluded from distance learning, most commonly learners with disabilities. However, 1 in 3 of low-income countries were not introducing any measures to support access or inclusion for those at risk of exclusion.
More than 90 per cent of high- and upper-middle-income respondents required teachers to continue teaching during school closures, compared to less than 40 per cent of low-income country respondents.
Other findings include:

Almost all countries included remote learning in their education response, in the form of online platforms, TV and radio programmes and take-home packages.
9 in 10 countries facilitated access to online learning, most frequently through mobile phones or offering internet access at subsidized or no cost, but the coverage of this access was extremely varied.
6 in 10 countries provided materials to help guide parents in home-based learning, while 4 in 10 countries provided psychosocial counselling to children and caregivers during school closures. These efforts were more common among high-income countries and in environments where resources were already available.
More than two-thirds of countries have fully or partially reopened their schools. Around 1 in 4, however, had missed a planned reopening date or not set a date for reopening.
Even before the pandemic, children’s learning was in crisis. Half of 10-year-olds in middle- and low-income countries couldn’t understand a simple written sentence. According to UNESCO, more than a quarter of a billion children were already out of school, a number likely to increase by at least 24 million as a result of the pandemic. Schoolchildren today currently stand to lose $10 trillion in earnings over their working lifetime, equal to 10 per cent of global GDP.

“Despite widespread efforts, there are large differences in countries’ capacity to provide children and youth with effective learning. And there are probably even wider differences within countries in the educational stimulation children and youth have experienced. We were worried about learning poverty before the pandemic and also about the inequality in learning opportunities. Now the learning baseline is lower, but the increase in inequality of opportunities could be catastrophic. The task of reigniting the learning process is extremely urgent,” said Jaime Saavedra, World Bank Global Director for Education.