By Manos Antoninis, Director, Global Education Monitoring Report and Silvia Montoya, Director, UNESCO Institute for Statistics.
According to a new UNESCO, UNICEF, World Bank and OECD global survey of national education responses to COVID-19 school closures done in collaboration with the GEM Report, only one-third of countries are taking steps to measure learning losses in primary and lower secondary education, while one-third are not implementing remedial programmes.
In 2020, schools around the world were fully closed for 79 teaching days on average across all four education levels (pre-primary, primary, lower secondary and upper secondary). Closures ranged from 53 days in high-income to 115 days in lower-middle-income countries.
With schools now re-opening, fewer than one-third of low- and middle-income countries reported that all students had returned, heightening the risk of early school leaving. And only one in four countries is providing incentives such as cash, food, transport or fee waivers to help girls or children from disadvantaged families return to school.
Carried out with financial support from the Global Partnership for Education, in total 142 countries responded to the survey that covers the period from February to May 2021. It was the third iteration of the survey with previous rounds covering the periods May–June and July–October 2020, respectively.
Countries’ responses document how they are monitoring and mitigating learning losses, addressing the challenge of reopening schools safely and deploying distance learning strategies. Some key findings include the following:
- To make up for school closures, countries have responded with a variety of measures to mitigate potential learning losses: Around 40% of countries extended the academic year, while just over 40% prioritized certain curriculum areas or skills. However, more than half of countries reported that no adjustments have been or will be made at any education level.
- Globally, 28% of countries cancelled examinations in lower secondary and 18% of countries did so in upper secondary education.
- Reviewing or revising access policies was uncommon, especially for girls – a cause for concern as adolescent girls are at highest risk of not returning to school in low- and lower-middle income countries.
- Low-income countries are lagging behind in the implementation of even the most basic measures to ensure a safe return to school: for instance, less than 10% reported having sufficient soap, clean water, sanitation and hygiene facilities, and masks to assure the safety of all learners and staff, compared to 96% of high-income countries.
- Most countries reported that teachers were or would be a priority target for vaccination against COVID-19, either through a national immunization measure (59%) or through the COVAX initiative (7%).
The survey also sheds light on the deployment and effectiveness of distance learning and related support more than one year into the pandemic. Results show that:
- Most countries, across income groups, took various actions to provide remote learning and issued corresponding instructions to teachers (89%). However, these solutions were not necessarily taken up by students. Over one-third of low- and lower middle-income countries that provided lessons through TV or radio reported that less than half of primary school students were reached.
- The report says that ensuring uptake and engagement requires remote learning strategies suited to the context, along with parental engagement and support from and to teachers. Furthermore, the effectiveness of remote learning is not always assessed. Only 27% of low- and lower-middle-income countries responded that they had a fully implemented policy on digital learning, compared to half of high-income countries.
These findings reinforce the importance of reopening schools safely, providing remedial learning and setting up more effective remote learning systems that can better withstand future crises.
The results of the report are being presented today at a webinar at 17.00 Paris time.