In April, 9 in 10 of the world's children were out of school in an effort to stop the spread of the coronavirus. Several months later, a new report from UNESCO, UNICEF and the World Bank finds the return to learning has been much slower in the world's poorer countries.
Researchers looked at nearly 150 countries and found:
- Schoolchildren in low- and lower-middle-income countries have lost almost four months of learning since the start of the pandemic, compared to six weeks of learning loss in high-income countries.
- One in 4 countries, most of which are low- and lower-middle-income, have either missed their planned reopening date or not yet set a date for reopening.
- Almost all countries have offered some form of remote learning during closures, whether online, by broadcast (radio or TV) or through paper packets. However, while 3 out of 4 countries overall count remote learning days as school days, only 1 in 5 low-income countries do so, in recognition of how few children are actually able to access these resources.
- Half of low-income countries reported not having enough money to pay for things like handwashing facilities and protective equipment for students and teachers. Only 5% of high-income countries said the same.
These findings are in line with another recent analysis by the foundation Insights for Education, which estimated that nearly half of the world's 1.6 billion primary and secondary students would not return to school before the end of 2020. According to that analysis, 84% of the students who won't return to school live in low-income countries.
For decades, the development community has been working to get more children into schools. Formal learning is seen as key to economic progress and political freedom, and the education of girls and women has even been identified as a major building block in the fight against climate change.
In recent years, according to the United Nations, the world was moving in the right direction, with more and more children in school. Now that progress seems to have reversed, at least temporarily. According to UNESCO, more than 250 million children were out of school just before the pandemic, a number they say is likely to jump nearly 10 percent this year.