A systematic review and meta-analysis of the evidence on learning during the COVID-19 pandemic
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A systematic review and meta-analysis of the evidence on learning
during the COVID-19 pandemic
Bastian A. Betthäuser, Anders M. Bach-Mortensen, Per Engzell
Nature Human Behaviour, published 30 January 2023
Since the beginning of the pandemic, children in primary and secondary schools have lost out on one third of what they would have learned in a normal school year. The existing evidence suggests that children have thus far not recovered this learning deficit. These are the main conclusions of the study.
The authors analyzed data from more than 38 million school children in 15 countries.
- Children in primary and secondary schools lost out on a substantial amount of learning early in the COVID-19 pandemic.
The first months of the pandemic were very disruptive. Teachers, parents and children were not prepared for schools closing. Children’s ability to learn is likely to have been reduced by lockdowns and the associated economic uncertainties of many families.
- Worryingly, children have still not recovered the learning they lost early in the pandemic.
But, on the positive side, children, teachers and parents have been successful in preventing early learning deficits from growing even larger as the pandemic continues.”
- The learning gap between children from different socioeconomic backgrounds increased during the pandemic. The learning crisis is an equality crisis. Children from disadvantaged families were disproportionately affected. At the same time, they had fewer means to continue learning from home, for example with respect to a quiet place to study or a computer.
- The pandemic also reinforced learning inequality at the global level.
Children in poorer countries lost out on more learning than their peers in richer countries.
- The extent of learning deficits also differs across subjects.
The authors see a larger learning deficit in maths compared to reading. This may be due to parents being better able to help their children with reading compared to maths.
- A few countries seem to have avoided significant setbacks, and their experience may provide valuable policy lessons.
In Sweden, where schools did not close, students are performing as well as in normal school years before the pandemic.
- The study highlights that urgent policy action is needed to address setbacks in children’s learning.
In order to allow children to recover learning lost during the pandemic, we need to provide them with opportunities to learn outside of the regular classroom hours. Potential ways to do this include offering summer schools, organizing tutoring programmes and improving digital learning platforms.