The Impact of School Closures on the learning crisis

Updated: Sep 12, 2021

*New updates*

Since the publication of this original post, the COVID-19 virus continues to impact people's livelihoods, ambitions, and goals all over the world, and children are no exception. The original content under this post still rings true. Empirical research has driven home the point that closing schools indefinitely can be extremely detrimental to children's overall well-being and development in all domains. There are a plethora of long-term consequences from COVID-19 that directly and indirectly impact children, such as the loss of learning, the onset of mental health issues, namely anxiety and depression, and family stress. Although children have been largely spared from the virus, they have, nonetheless, faced insurmountable challenges during these trying times, such as school closures, mental health issues, stress, and so forth.


According to UNICEF, as of August 2021, 140 million children continue to be out of school amid the pandemic. Furthermore, about 8 million children out of the total of 140 million have not stepped foot in a classroom at all. The opportunity for them to begin school has been postponed for about a year. The average time period that schools were closed during the COVID-19 pandemic is around 79 days.


Many countries, namely high income, have geared up for the new school year with children heading back to the classroom. The United States is one of the countries with many students engaging in in-person learning this year. The wide availability of vaccines has been thought of as the "ray of hope" after a bleak 18 months of hell. However, as we are all learning, there are variants of the virus that are floating around. The SARS-CoV2 Delta variant is ubiquitously being discussed in the media.


Johns Hopkins University, UNICEF, and the World Bank have teamed up together to create an interactive website that monitors how schools, educators, and students worldwide to ascertain how they are faring in the midst of this looming pandemic. I explored the website myself, and the data is interesting. All of the regions were accounted for, except North America. The tracker quantifies and analyzes the type of existing educational support offered to help alleviate the learning loss. The most common type of educational support that was offered is the changes pertaining to the academic year calendar. A second facet the tracker accounted for was the method of instruction for virtual learning with the most commonly used modality was online learning platforms. Lastly, there is a mixed bag of countries who have granted educators the opportunity to be vaccinated as a priority group. Unsurprisingly, the United States has not given teachers first dibs to become vaccinated. It is unfortunate that educators are still not highly appreciated for their noble work. We have praised teachers day in and day out for their invaluable roles in shaping the next future generation of children and wearing many hats. So, the mere fact that teachers have not been considered a high priority to receive the vaccine is utterly ridiculous!

Keywords: school closure, COVID-19, mental health, child development, learning poverty



 

Ever since COVID-19 has surged in every country globally, its ravaging transmission prompted officials to enforced school closure for school children to reduce the spread of the virus. Unsurprisingly, it has wreaked havoc on families and children. In this article, I want to discuss school closures' impacts on children and introduce learning poverty that affects children, namely in low-income and middle-income countries.


A school bus is transporting students to school.
Fall often marks the beginning of a new school year.

I want to share a few alarming statistics highlighting the pervasiveness of disparities present in the education system. According to UNESCO, about 260 million school-age children, youth, and adolescents are out of school. The mere fact that these many children are out of school at an astronomical rate should raise many flags. It brings the overall low quality and infrastructure of education systems to the forefront in most countries, namely in low-income and middle-income countries.

A schoolgirl is with a group of children.
A schoolgirl in a school uniform.


Furthermore, the vast number of out-of-school youth presents the stark reality that Sustainable Development Goal #4(SDG 4), which totes the ambitious goal of ensuring inclusive and equitable quality education and promoting lifelong learning, will not be fully achieved by the year 2030. The progress rate to accomplish all of the SDG 4 targets under the umbrella goal of SDG 4 is woefully inadequate. The reality is that children from marginalized groups, such as girls, ethnic minorities, individuals with disabilities, and so forth, are not reaping the full, innumerable benefits that education can provide.

Subsequently, children from these same marginalized backgrounds continue to be left behind and struggle with being up to par academically with their peers from better-off households. Unsurprisingly, an inequality gap exists among high-income and low-income countries and between the haves and the have nots(rich and poor). The digital divide phenomenon exacerbated the existing inequality rate between students from financially secure households and low-income families. The COVID-19 pandemic raised peoples' awareness of the digital divide issue of disparities present among children from low-income and high-income countries who had the ease of utilizing technology and students who had significant difficulties using technology to partake in remote learning.


A little girl is staring at her laptop screen during remote learning.
A little girl is engaging in online learning with her caregiver.

According to the World Bank, about 94% of students did not attend in-person schooling due to schools being closed amid the COVID-19 pandemic to curb the spread of the virus's transmission. Furthermore, according to the World Bank, about 700 million school-age children engaged in virtual learning in schools' interim of schools being closed. Lastly, the World Bank put out the mind-blogging statistic that about 220 million students in higher education(tertiary) have the school closure enforcement directly impacting nearly 220 million students in higher education(tertiary) to help control the virus's spread.

School closures have harmed children's health and nutrition since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the UNICEF Innocenti report, "COVID-19: Missing More than a Classroom", the discontinuity of school operations has, needless to say, wreaked havoc on children's overall health and well-being. The report provided insightful, glaring facts about the state of children's nutrition. People cannot and should not underestimate the vital role nutrition and health play in shaping children's growth and development.

Nutritional food in the major food groups plays a crucial role in children's growth and development in the first 8,000 days of their lives. Cognitive development and malnutrition positively correlate with one another. It profoundly shapes the architecture and function of the brain. The fundamental nutrients for their brain development are iodine, iron, zinc, vitamin B12, and omega-three amino acids. A second correlation linked with health and development, the article highlighted, is a mother's educational level(number of years of schooling).

The fundamental nutrients for their brain development are iodine, iron, zinc, vitamin B12, and omega-three amino acids. A second correlation linked with health and development, the article highlighted, is a mother's educational level(number of years of schooling). A startling projection predicts that over 3 million children are highly susceptible to enduring malnutrition, which can manifest into stunting, obesity, or wasting. Children suffering from malnutrition run a high risk of developing weakened, compromising immune systems, and contracting infectious and non-communicable diseases, such as measles, malaria, diarrhea, asthma, pneumonia, and Type 2 diabetes.



Two teenage boys are sitting around the table engaging with their classmates and teachers online.
Teenagers are engaging in virtual learning.

School is more than just a place for learning. It can serve as a haven for students to be cared for by supportive adults and establish strong friendships with their peers. Many children in a majority of countries, including the United States, solely rely on schools to provide them with nutritionally sound meals that they may not be able to receive otherwise at home. The discontinuation of school meals is a massive disservice to children in need.


According to the World Bank map, as of January 2021, 57 countries with schools are fully closed, and 26 countries are fully open. The remainder of the nations, a total of 95, remains partially open. My country, the United States, falls into this category. Many schools in my hometown state of Delaware are currently adopting the hybrid model. It enables students to attend school in-person and engage in remote learning. I think the hybrid model is an effective way to contain the spread of the virus. Both of my nieces are in elementary school; their school utilizes the hybrid model. As of September 2021, schools in Delaware are utilizing the in-person modality. Both of my nieces and nephew are in school full-time. However, the state governor has mandated for teachers and students to wear masks throughout the entire school day. I strongly believe that the in-person model is 100% doable, as long as proper safety precautions are practiced consistently.



An African child is learning math in a rural area.
An African child is learning math.

Another issue I would like to bring to readers' attention is learning poverty. Learning poverty is defined as "the inability to read and interpret simple reading texts by age 10", which is typically the end of primary school in most countries. In pre-COVID, there were about 72 million children at a greater risk of becoming learning deficient. Before the onset of COVID-19, a 53% chance of school-aged children living in low-income and middle-income countries became academically inferior.


Still, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, this percentage can jump to 63%, which is ten percentage points higher than before, according to the World Bank Global Director for Education, Jaime Saavedra. A disturbing statistic I read was that school closures could cause youth to lose out on about 10 trillion dollars of earning potential for their futures, which equates to approximately 10% of the international gross domestic product(GDP). Unsurprisingly, the heaviest concentration of students suffering from learning poverty is in the Sub-Saharan Africa region of 87%. The lowest concentration of students suffering from learning poverty is in the Europe and Central Asia(ECA) region of 13%.


According to the World Development Report 2018, about 125 million children are functionally and numerically illiterate. There is a confluence of factors attributed to this infamous discrepancy, such as poverty, socioeconomic status, educational status of parents, the mother's, and the household's quality of educational materials. An example of educational material is the number of books in one's home and the priority placed on the importance of education.

A group of children are posing with one another for a group picture.
African children

Two teenage girls are engaging in virtual learning while adhering to social distancing.
Online learning while maintaining social distancing.

The COVID-19 pandemic served as a silver-lining and a blessing in disguise for many. The education field is no exception. It has been a wake-up call for educators and administrators worldwide to be ingenious and quick on their toes to deliver high-quality education to students, despite the trying circumstances. No longer is it acceptable to utilize a business-as-usual approach to produce learning outcomes. This approach has proven in a cornucopia of empirical studies that it is unsustainable and inequitable. Attention and resources should be toward achieving holistic well-being that successfully equips children with the knowledge and socioemotional skills to develop into productive citizens. Content taught in schools should closely align with relevant skills and competencies employers are looking for in potential candidates in a 21st-century workforce. Educators who design and implement school curricula should focus on cultural awareness, global citizenship, leadership skills, and financial literacy for all students to master. Lastly, it is imperative for educators to competently lead well-managed education systems that possess the innate traits of determination, grit, ingenuity, and awareness to make an invaluable difference in children's lives.


Sources:


Borkowski, A., Santiago, J., Correa, O., Bundy, D., Burbano, C., Hayashi, C., … Reuge, N. (2021). COVID-19: Missing More Than a Classroom The impact of school closures on children’s nutrition. In UNICEF Office of Research- Innocenti. Retrieved from website: https://www.unicef-irc.org/publications/pdf/COVID-19_Missing_More_Than_a_Classroom_The_impact_of_school_closures_on_childrens_nutrition.pdf



Johns Hopkins University, World Bank & UNICEF (2021). COVID-19 Global Education Recovery Tracker. Last updated as of 8/17/2021. Baltimore, Washington DC, New York: JHU, World Bank, UNICEF.


Schrader-King, K., & Ordon, K. (2020, December 2). Pandemic threatens to push 72 million more children into learning poverty—world bank outlines a new vision to ensure that every child learns, everywhere. Retrieved February 1, 2020, from World Bank website: https://www.worldbank.org/en/news/press-release/2020/12/02/pandemic-threatens-to-push-72-million-more-children-into-learning-poverty-world-bank-outlines-new-vision-to-ensure-that-every-child-learns-everywhere

UNDESA. (2020). A global indicator framework for the Sustainable Development Goals and targets of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. In UN Statistics (pp. 1–21). Retrieved from website: https://unstats.un.org/sdgs/indicators/Global%20Indicator%20Framework%20after%202020%20review_Eng.pdf

World Bank. (2018). World Development Report 2018: Learning to Realize Education’s Promise. In World Bank (pp. 1–239). Retrieved from World Bank Group website: Worlddevelopment2018report_education.pdf

World Bank. (2021). World Bank Education and COVID-19. In World Bank Education COVID-19 School Closures Map. World Bank. Retrieved from https://www.worldbank.org/en/data/interactive/2020/03/24/world-bank-education-and-covid-19

World Bank Group. (2019). A learning revolution to eradicate learning poverty. In World Bank (pp. 1–28). Retrieved from World Bank Education website: http://pubdocs.worldbank.org/en/796031571248486139/Learning-Poverty-brochure-Oct-17.pdf






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