Learning losses must be assessed, and tailored support provided to recover children’s education, report says

A report published by the Global Education Evidence Advisory Panel (GEEAP) provides recommendations on how to recover learning losses following COVID-19 related school closures in India, which threaten to set back children’s potential for years to come.

School closures and the broader impacts of COVID-19 have caused large and persistent damage to children’s learning and wellbeing, particularly in countries with prolonged lockdowns. In India, schools were fully closed for 25 weeks, and partially closed for 68 weeks, before fully reopening in April 2022.

India has been proactive in gathering research to inform education recovery, linked to the impact of COVID-19. Early evidence from India shows learning losses have amounted to an entire year of schooling.

The National Achievement Survey (MoE, 2021) was released on May 25, 2022, being the first comprehensive national assessment of learning since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Findings showed a decline in learning outcomes in most states. This proactive approach to evidence gathering allows India to now focus on adjusting instruction – to make sure their students are taught at the right level, helping them to recover from their learning losses.

“Recovering learning loss that children have experienced requires more than reopening classrooms. Schoolchildren need support at the right level to get back on track, teachers need access to quality training and resources, and education systems need to be transformed,” said Abhijit Banerjee, co-chair of the GEEAP. Dr. Banerjee, who shared the 2019 economics Nobel Prize in part for his work in education, is one of the 15 education experts from around the world who produced the second annual GEEAP report.

The recommendations made by GEEAP outlined in the report include:

  • Prioritize keeping schools and preschools fully open. The large educational, economic, social, and mental health costs of school closures and the inadequacy of remote learning strategies as substitutes for in-person learning make it clear that school closures should be a last resort.
  • Prioritize teachers for the COVID-19 vaccination, and use masks where assessed as appropriate, and improve ventilation. The risk of transmission in schools can be sharply reduced when a combination of these mitigating actions are taken, but they should not be prerequisites for keeping schools open.
  • Adjust instruction to support the learning needs of children and focus on important foundational skills. It is critical to assess students’ learning levels as schools reopen. Targeting instruction tailored to a child’s learning level has proven cost-effective and helped students to catch up.
  • Governments must ensure teachers have adequate support to help children learn. Interventions that provide teachers with carefully structured and simple pedagogical programs have been found to be cost-effective ways to increase literacy and numeracy.

The expert panel also calls on governments to support parental engagement and leverage existing technology.

“We must continue to sound the alarm on the crisis in education and ensure that policy makers have clear evidence for how to recover from the catastrophic learning losses and prevent a lost generation,” said Jaime Saavedra, Panel member and Global Director for Education at the World Bank.