During the COVID-19 pandemic, school-aged children experienced delays in learning progress and a loss of knowledge and skills equivalent to approximately 35% of a school year’s worth of learning overall. The findings, published in Nature Human Behaviour, are based on a meta-analysis of 42 studies across 15 high- and middle-income countries and indicate these delays have persisted for at least 2.5 years, and are greater for mathematics than for reading and in children from disadvantaged backgrounds.
An estimated 95% of the world’s student population were affected by school closures during the COVID-19 pandemic. Previous research has suggested that learning progress may have been compromised by hybrid teaching, and by students or teachers missing classes. The effect of limited face-to-face instruction may also have been exacerbated by out-of-school learning environments and by mental and physical health issues related to economic uncertainty, which could be more pronounced for children from families of lower socioeconomic background.
Bastian Betthäuser and colleagues examined learning deficits (a delay in expected learning progress, as well as a loss of skills and knowledge already gained) during the pandemic and whether these varied among different groups of students. They reviewed evidence from 42 studies published between March 2020 and August 2022, from 15 countries: Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Colombia, Denmark, Germany, Italy, Mexico, the Netherlands, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the UK and the USA. The authors found that learning progress slowed during the pandemic and that deficits in learning persisted to at least mid-2022. They indicate that the deficits may be equivalent to approximately 35% of a school year’s worth of learning. Learning deficits were higher in mathematics than in reading, possibly because learning progress in mathematics is more dependent on formal instruction than it is in reading. They also find that existing inequalities in learning outcomes between children from lower and higher socioeconomic backgrounds worsened during this time.
The authors note that while deficits emerged early in the pandemic, they have not closed or widened substantially over time. They conclude that their results highlight the need for policy initiatives to recover learning deficits and to provide additional support to children whose learning has slowed the most during the pandemic. The authors found that no evidence was available on learning deficits in lower-income countries and recommend this as a priority for future research.
**Please note that an online press briefing for the paper below will take place UNDER STRICT EMBARGO on Wednesday 25th January at 3pm London time (GMT) / 10am US Eastern Time**
Author Bastian Betthäuser will discuss the research. This will be followed by a Q&A session.
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