SouthAsia Schools Stayed Shut 35 weeks, Says UNESCO

    HealthCOVID-19SouthAsia Schools Stayed Shut 35 weeks, Says UNESCO
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    SouthAsia Schools Stayed Shut 35 weeks, Says UNESCO

    School closures in SouthAsia have long-term implications for its learners. Current learners in South Asia could stand to lose near a trillion dollars in future earnings.

    Schools in Nepal were closed for 95 weeks, according to data from UNESCO Global Monitoring of School Closures. Schools in India were closed for 82 weeks.

    On average, schools in the SouthAsia region have been fully closed for 35 weeks, as of 28 February 2022, according to the data. By the end of February 2022, six out of eight countries in the region saw durations of full school closures beyond the global average of 20 weeks.

    The total duration of school closures (fully closed and partially closed) ranges from 22 weeks in the Maldives to 95 weeks in Nepal. Schoolchildren in the region have lost near 700 billion hours of in-person learning.

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    UNESCO says that basic, foundational skills upon which every aspect of education is built have been erased in many countries due to the pandemic. “Children have forgotten how to read and write; some are unable to recognise letters,” it says.

    Sadly, it says, “Children who were poised to start school for the first time never got the chance to learn these skills in the first place, as early childhood education disappeared in most countries.”

    Simple reading, sums

    A growing body of evidence shows substantial losses and worsening inequalities in learning outcomes as a result of COVID-related school closures.

    Pre-COVID, and among countries with available data, the proportion of children who can read a simple text ranged from 7 per cent in Afghanistan to 85 per cent in Sri Lanka.

    According to UNESCO, 51 per cent of the children could read a simple text after 20 weeks of school closure. But this fell to 41 per cent in countries where schools were closed for 35 weeks.

    In rural Karnataka, for instance, the share of grade 3 students in government schools who were able to perform simple subtraction fell from 24 per cent in 2018 to 16 per cent in 2020.

    Across grades, it was observed that learning losses were larger for students in Grades 3 and 5 than in Grade 7.

    In rural Pakistan, it was the share of students in grades 1 to 5 who were able to read in Urdu fell from 24 per cent in 2019 to 22 per cent in 2021. Children in the same grades who could solve simple two-digit sums also fell from 20 per cent in 2019 to 16 per cent in 2021.

    In war-torn Afghanistan, only seven per cent of the children could read a simple text.

    In Bangladesh, adolescent girls’ literacy and numeracy scores dropped by six per cent, and learning losses among the poorest 40 per cent of girls was three times greater than their peers from richer homes.

    School closures in the region have long-term implications for its learners: current learners in South Asia could stand to lose near 1 trillion dollars in future earnings, the UNESCO report said.

    Disrupted education systems

    A combined 2 trillion hours of in-person school was lost due to school closures since March 2020, UNESCO says. Students in more than four in five countries have fallen behind in their learning, it says.

    Only two countries, Pakistan and Bangladesh, have information on children who have returned to school. In Pakistan, information on student enrolment, including disaggregation by gender, is collected through the National Education Management Information System. In Bangladesh, data is collected at the school level, shared at the sub-national level, and is compiled and sent to the national level.

    Globally, less than half of countries are implementing learning recovery strategies at scale to help children catch up.  Unless all countries implement and expand programs in the coming months, they risk losing a generation.

    Since its outbreak two years ago, the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted education systems globally, affecting the most vulnerable learners the hardest. It has increased inequalities and exacerbated a pre-existing education crisis. School closures have ranged from no closures in a handful of countries to up to more than a full school year. Lack of connectivity and devices excluded at least one third of students from pursuing learning remotely.

    Today, despite the Omicron variant, schools are open in the majority of countries, supported by health and safety protocols and vaccination programmes.

    Without urgent remedial action, UNESCO warns, the loss of education could carry serious lifelong consequences in terms of health and well-being, future learning and employment.


    Image: Hippopx image licensed to use under Creative Commons Zero – CC0

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