UN data reveals ‘nearly insurmountable’ scale of lost schooling due to Covid

·2 min read
<span>Photograph: Hemis/Alamy</span>
Photograph: Hemis/Alamy

The scale of the number of children who have lost out on their schooling during the pandemic is “nearly insurmountable”, according to UN data.

Up to 70% of 10-year-olds in low- and middle-income countries cannot read or understand a simple text, up from 53% pre-Covid, the research suggested.

Classroom closures continue to affect more than 635 million children globally, with younger and more marginalised children facing the greatest loss in learning after almost two years of Covid, according to children’s agency Unicef, which called for intensive support to help students recover.

Across the world, from Ethiopia to the US, children have lost basic literacy and numeracy skills and their mental and physical health has suffered.

Students wear face mask in a classroom in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
Students wear face masks in a classroom in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

In South Africa, schoolchildren are between 75% and a whole school year behind where they should be, with up to 500,000 having dropped out of school altogether between March 2020 and October 2021.

Related: ‘Lost generation’: education in quarter of countries at risk of collapse, study warns

Learning losses have been seen in the US, including in California, Colorado, Tennessee, North Carolina, Ohio, Virginia and Maryland. In Texas, two-thirds of children in grade 3 (age eight to nine) tested below their grade level in maths in 2021, compared with half of children in 2019.

In Ethiopia, primary age children are estimated to have learned between 30-40% of the maths they would have in a normal school year.

Robert Jenkins, Unicef’s head of education, said: “In March, we will mark two years of Covid-related disruptions to global education. Quite simply, we are looking at a nearly insurmountable scale of loss to children’s schooling. While the disruptions to learning must end, just reopening schools is not enough. Students need intensive support to recover lost education.

“Schools must also go beyond places of learning to rebuild children’s mental and physical health, social development and nutrition.”

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