School closure: One in three countries not implementing programmes to mitigate learning loss, says report

By PTI
NEW DELHI: One in three countries where schools were or are still closed due to the Covid pandemic have not yet implemented remedial programmes to mitigate learning loss, according to a survey.

The “Survey on National Education Responses to COVID-19 School Closures” was conducted by UNESCO, UNICEF, World Bank and OECD.

At the same time, only one-third of countries are taking steps to measure learning losses in primary and lower second levels, mostly among high-income countries, the survey report stated.

According to it, fewer than a third of low-and middle-income countries reported that all students had returned to in-person schooling, which indicates heightening risk of learning loss and drop-out.

However, majority of countries reported using at least one form of outreach to encourage students to return to school.

These included community engagement, school-based tracking, modification to water, sanitation and hygiene services, financial incentives and review of access policies, the report stated.

“Remedial instruction is vital to help those children who have missed out on school to get back on track and reduce long-term learning losses,” global director for education at the World Bank, Jaime Saavedra, said.

“This requires an urgent effort to measure students’ learning levels today and collect good quality data to inform classroom practices, as envisioned under the UNICEF, UNESCO, and World Bank’s Learning Data Compact,” Saavedra said.

The survey documents how countries are monitoring and mitigating learning losses, addressing the challenge of reopening schools and deploying distance learning strategies.

In total, 142 countries responded to the survey that covers the period from February to May, and spans across the pre-primary, primary, lower secondary and upper secondary levels.

“Remote learning has been a lifeline for many children around the world during school closures. But for the most vulnerable, even this was out of reach. It is urgent that we get every child back into the classroom now,” global chief of education at UNICEF, Robert Jenkins, said.

“But we cannot stop there; reopening better means implementing remedial programmes to help students get back on track, and ensuring that we prioritize girls and vulnerable children in all our efforts,” he said.

The survey found that around 40 per cent of countries extended their academic year and a similar proportion of countries prioritised certain curriculum areas.

However, more than half of the countries reported that no adjustments have been or will be made, it said.

“Many countries improved health and safety standards at examination centres, still, 28 per cent of countries cancelled examinations in lower secondary and 18 per cent of countries did so in upper secondary education,” the survey report said.

“Reviewing or revising access policies was uncommon, especially for girls, a cause for concern as adolescent girls are at the highest risk of not returning to school in low- and lower-middle-income countries,” it said.

Low-income countries are lagging in the implementation of even the most basic measures to ensure return to school, the survey found.

For instance, only less than 10 per cent reported having sufficient soap, clean water, sanitation and hygiene facilities and masks, compared to 96 per cent of high-income countries, it said.

The survey also sheds light on the deployment and effectiveness of distance learning and related support in more than one year into the pandemic.

Most countries took multiple actions to provide remote learning.

Radio and TV broadcasts were more popular among low-income countries, while high-income countries provided online learning platforms, it said.

However, over a third of low- and lower-middle-income countries reported that less than half of primary school students were reached, the report stated.

According to UNESCO statistics, in 2020, schools worldwide were fully closed across all four education levels for 79 teaching days on an average, representing roughly 40 per cent of total instructional days averaged across OECD and G20 countries.

The figures ranged from 53 days in high-income countries to 115 days in lower-middle-income countries, it said.