COVID:19 Scale of education loss ‘nearly insurmountable’, warns UNICEF

NEW YORK, January 24, 2022 – More than 616 million students * are still affected by the complete or partial closure of schools. On International Education Day, as the COVID-19 pandemic approaches its two-year mark, UNICEF is sharing the latest available data on the pandemic’s impact on children’s learning.

“In March, we will mark two years of failures in global education related to COVID-19. Simply put, we are looking at the almost insurmountable losses for children’s schooling, ”said Robert Jenkins, UNICEF’s head of education. “While learning interruptions should end, just rebuilding schools is not enough. Students need intensive support to regain lost education. Schools also need to go beyond places of learning to restore children’s mental and physical health, social development and nutrition. ”

Children have lost basic numeracy and literacy skills. Globally, disruption of education has resulted in millions of children significantly losing the academic training they would have received if they had studied in the classroom, and younger and marginalized children face the greatest loss.

  • In low- and middle-income countries, up to 70 percent of 10-year-olds could not read or understand plain text due to school closures, compared with 53 percent before the pandemic.
  • In Ethiopia, primary school children are estimated to have learned 30 to 40 percent of the math they would have learned if it had been a regular school year.
  • In the U.S., learning losses have been observed in many states, including Texas, California, Colorado, Tennessee, North Carolina, Ohio, Virginia and Maryland. In Texas, for example, two-thirds of children in 3rd grade passed math tests below their class level in 2021, compared to half of children in 2019.
  • In several Brazilian states, about 3 out of 4 children in 2nd grade do not read, compared to 1 out of 2 children before the pandemic. Across Brazil, every 10th student aged 10-15 said they had no plans to return to school once their schools reopened.
  • In South Africa, students lag behind what they should be by 75 per cent and for a full school year. It is reported that between March 2020 and July 2021, between 400,000 and 500,000 students dropped out of school.

The consequences of school closures are growing. In addition to the loss of education, the closure of schools has affected children’s mental health, reduced their access to a regular food source and increased the risk of abuse.

  • There is growing evidence that COVID-19 has caused high levels of anxiety and depression among children and young people, with some studies showing that girls, adolescents and people living in rural areas are more likely to face these problems.
  • More than 370 million children worldwide missed school meals during school closures, losing what for some children is the only reliable source of food and daily food.


Notes to editors:

* this figure has been updated from more than 635 million to more than 616 million


Report on the state of the global educational crisis

The National Income Dynamics Survey (NIDS) is a rapid mobile coronavirus study (CRAM), Wave 5 and the Department of Basic Education.

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