In the year since the pandemic started, schooling was disrupted for an average of twenty-five weeks, due to complete or partial school closures. As a result, over 100 million more children will not be able to read or write properly. In fact, 584 million children do not have basic reading skills, an increase of over twenty per cent in a year.
These are the findings of a UNESCO Institute for Statistics report published in March 2021. It points out that the highest learning losses are in the Latin America and Caribbean region, and Central and Southern Asia. Even more concerning is the fact that it could take a decade to return to the situation before the pandemic, the study notes. But there could be a recovery by 2024 if exceptional efforts are made to provide remedial classes and catch-up strategies.
These concerns were the focus of a ministerial meeting convened by UNESCO on 29 March 2021. Called One Year into COVID: Prioritizing education recovery to avoid a generational catastrophe, the meeting reiterated how crucial it is to support continuity of learning in a context where sixty-five per cent of governments in low-income countries have already cut funding for education. While fiscal measures could inject more resources into education, UNESCO calculates that only two per cent is earmarked for education in fiscal stimulation packages.