School closures and the shift to online learning caused by the COVID-19 pandemic have had a devastating impact on students’ learning, with a European study finding that children aged 5 to 18 lost the equivalent of 35% of a typical year’s worth of education.
The study, the largest review of its kind, analysed 42 studies across 15 countries, including Europe, South America, the US, South Africa, and Australia, and found that students from disadvantaged backgrounds and in poorer countries were hit hardest.
The researchers found that the majority of learning losses occurred during the initial school closures and that efforts since then have prevented further losses, but have not made up for the ground lost.
“The learning crisis is an equality crisis,” said Bastian Betthauser, the lead author and researcher at France’s Sciences Po university. He warned that this generation, which experienced the pandemic in school, will face a “real problem” and called on governments to take policy initiatives to help recover their losses.
The researchers found larger “learning deficits” in maths compared to reading, which they attribute to parents being better equipped to help their children with reading than with maths exercises.
Betthauser called on policymakers to stay focused on the issue, warning that attention may be diverted by other events, and more research is needed to understand the scale of the problem in less developed countries.