COVID-19: 6 steps to tackle the global learning crisis

  • The pandemic has affected every area of ​​life for every person around the world, and education has been hit by its worst crisis in a century.
  • Policymakers in countries around the world are trying to respond.
  • The Global Education Evidence Advisory Panel (GEEAP) provides recommendations on how to address the global learning crisis in the wake of COVID-19.

The arrival and scale of the Covid-19 pandemic caught everyone off guard; the pandemic and its repercussions are far from over. The pandemic has affected every area of ​​life for every person around the world, and education has been hit by its worst crisis in a century. In some countries, policy makers have done their best to respond to an unprecedented and rapidly changing situation; in others, they have not yet grasped the magnitude of this monumental shock. Evidence of the effectiveness and impact of various policy and programmatic responses has been sparse, in part because few countries were prepared. But learning recovery is now a mammoth task that requires urgent action.

The Global Education Evidence Advisory Panel (GEEAP), an independent multidisciplinary panel of leading experts in global education convened by our organisations, helps fill this evidence gap. Their new report, Prioritizing Learning During Covid-19, summarizes the best available evidence, including what has worked so far during the pandemic, and provides recommendations on how to tackle the global crisis of learning in the wake of Covid-19. Here, we discuss our takeaways from the Panel’s key recommendations.

1. Prioritize keeping schools and kindergartens fully open

Schools must be reopened and remain open. The significant educational, economic, social and mental health costs of school closures suggest that full or partial school closures should be a last resort in governments’ Covid-19 mitigation strategies. These costs fall heavily on the less well-off and on girls, particularly because of the increased risk of teenage pregnancy. The effects of school closures will outlast disruptions in many other sectors, as losses in human capital reduce earnings and productivity throughout a child’s lifetime. Schools not only provide learning spaces, but also offer a range of essential services to students, including school meals, psychosocial support and protection. Children need to be supported in their return to school and provided with comprehensive support that not only ensures their learning, but also their well-being. The priority should be keeping kindergartens, primary and secondary schools fully open rather than keeping non-educational sectors open, where disruptions lead to short-term losses.

2. Reduce transmission in schools by prioritizing teachers for Covid-19 vaccination, providing and using masks where appropriate, and improving ventilation

GEEAP cites ventilation and masking as key pandemic mitigation measures and calls for prioritizing teachers for vaccination. In Bangladesh, a randomized evaluation found that even imperfect masking significantly reduced community transmission (a 30 percentage point increase in mask wearing reduced transmission by 11% for surgical masks and 5% for cloth masks often used in schools).

3. Adjust teaching to reflect the new reality and focus on important foundational skills

As children return to school, curricula will need to be adjusted and harmonized across the system to focus on the foundational skills children have been missing. It will be too difficult for teachers to cover all the programs as if the children were just returning from a short break rather than a major disruption to their schooling. Remedial classes will be essential to meet children at their learning level rather than at their grade level. A series of randomized assessments in India shows that adapting teaching to a child’s level can quickly improve basic reading and math skills, even for students well behind in grade. When schools closed in Kano, Nigeria, the government relied on the evidence-based approach of teaching at the right level to support students, during and after school closures.

4. Provide additional pedagogical support to teachers

Teachers need support to continue to improve their teaching skills, for example through structured pedagogy and simple teaching guides, in order to provide effective learning to their students upon their return. They may also need increased human support to adapt to the different levels and learning needs of students. In South Africa, young people who volunteered as teaching assistants significantly improved their reading and math skills.

5. Leverage technology appropriate to the country context

Distance education was not available to most students in low- and middle-income countries and most distance learning solutions were not an adequate substitute for in-person learning. Low-tech and no-tech solutions have been effective in many areas. But eventually, technology will have the potential to be an effective support in all education systems. In Brazil, text messages sent to students reduced dropout rates by 26% during the pandemic. In Bangladesh, mentorship and homeschooling support provided by tutors via mobile phones had a significant impact on learning outcomes.

6. Foster parental engagement

Studies from before the pandemic demonstrate how certain parental involvement approaches can increase children’s learning at low cost to the parent. These include direct communication between schools and parents, engaging more with young children in educational activities, reading books to a child (when the parent is literate) and sharing simple exercises that the parent can use with their child by SMS or telephone. Parents and guardians have been involved in education in an unprecedented way, and their expanded role should be encouraged as schools reopen.

In Costa Rica, text messages to parents encouraging them to support their children’s learning at home led to significant cognitive gains during the pandemic. These findings reinforce findings from a review in non-Covid-19 settings, which found that interventions involving parents via phone, text and email were successful as long as communications were two-way, personalized and positive.

Looking forward

Many countries are already responding to the pandemic in line with the recommendations of the Global Education Evidence Advisory Group. The learning crisis – now on the verge of becoming a catastrophe – is still underestimated in many countries and not sufficiently prioritized despite its potential to become the most serious and long-lasting impact of the pandemic. . Beyond adopting evidence-based policies, we need to continue to gauge the scale of the challenges through better data that will help decision makers target solutions, especially for the most marginalized learners. The urgency of the challenge should provide the political opportunity to implement critical education reforms that ensure all children receive the holistic education and support they need and deserve.