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Education and Covid-19: Recovering from the shock created by the pandemic and building back better ( Educational Practices Series 34 )

The Covid-19 pandemic shocked schools and education systems around the world, affecting educational opportunity. For many students, the pandemic resulted in the loss of knowledge, skills, and previously mastered subject matter. Additionally, many students became disengaged with school, and in some countries the dropout levels rose. These effects were especially pronounced among disadvantaged students, which led to increases in educational inequality within nations. The effects were also more pronounced in the Global South, which led to increases in educational inequality among nations. These education losses will likely limit opportunities for individuals and nations. Hanushek & Woessman (2020) have estimated a decrease of 3% in lifetime income for students resulting from the learning losses caused by the pandemic.

These education losses were the result of the health, economic, and social effects of the pandemic, as well as the result of direct effects of the pandemic on educational institutions. Outside of schools, the pandemic took a toll on the physical and mental health of students, families, and the close relatives of those who were infected. It was economically devastating for millions worldwide, slowing the activity of global economies, increasing unemployment, and resulting in the closing of businesses and the reduced demand for goods and services during total or partial lockdowns to contain the spread of the virus. The measures limiting in-person meetings and travel undermined the functioning of various institutions and human well-being.

Moreover, the economic impact of the pandemic spilled over into the education sector. This negatively impacted the opportunity and disposition of students to learn and of teachers to teach, and limited what support both students and teachers received. As part of the social distancing measures adopted to curb the spread of the virus, education authorities suspended in-person instruction. In much of the world, schools were among the first institutions to close and the last ones to reopen, causing considerable disruption to opportunity to learn. Across 33 OECD countries, the average length of school closure was 70 days, with considerable differences across countries in the duration of closures—ranging from 20 days in Denmark and Germany, to over 150 days in Colombia and Costa Rica (OECD, 2021). School closures were longer in countries where students had lower levels of educational performance, as measured via comparative assessments such as PISA (OECD, 2021). In these contexts, teachers and education administrators were forced to innovate to continue educating amidst the pandemic-caused disruptions, and to recover the learning loss that resulted from the deficiencies in the alternative educational channels quickly set up to educate remotely.

Although the net effect of the pandemic on education was negative, there were also some positive impacts. Importantly, educators developed a variety of innovations to sustain educational opportunity during the lockdown period. Emerging research on these innovations is contributing valuable knowledge about the prospects, and the limitations, of digital education strategies, and about the conditions that supported such teacher-led innovation and effective use of digi-pedagogies. It should be recognized, however, that the digital alternatives created during the pandemic were largely improvised—they were not the result of careful planning and design, and, to date, researchers have documented or studied few of them. Considerable differences exist across countries regarding the effectiveness of remote-education strategies, and within countries in how students from different social backgrounds were and are able to engage with those strategies (Reimers, 2021).

This booklet draws on research-based knowledge generated during the Covid-19 crisis and on previous research on germane topics, to suggest a framework that supports the development of contextually relevant educational strategies to teach during and after the pandemic. The booklet is addressed to education administrators at the school and system level. It was written with the acknowledgment that the pandemic is still ongoing in much of the world, and that interruptions to education in many parts of the world are likely to continue through 2022, and perhaps beyond.


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