Parents’ fears about the impact of school closings on their children’s education have been proven correct. Several researchers have found that their academic performance deteriorated because students regularly missed classes during the first wave of the pandemic.

Educational disabilities are a global phenomenon. At various school levels, 94% of students’ education worldwide was interrupted. According to the United Nations (UN), 1.6 billion students in 190 countries have been suspended from their education to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 disease.

Countries with low incomes, poor health infrastructure and education find it more difficult to keep their children in school. According to a policy statement by the United Nations, 86% of elementary school students in poor countries have dropped out of school, compared with 20% of students in high-income countries.

Oxford study

But even students in well-heeled countries apparently did not benefit from distance learning.

A new study from Oxford University analyzed the impact of a school closure, even temporarily, on the grades of elementary school students in the Netherlands. Instead, they took classes online. To compare the impact on education between those attending school and those studying online, the researchers chose the Netherlands as local or national administrations provided computer access.

The students in the Netherlands also stayed at home for eight weeks so that the national exams could be carried out as usual. “We’re taking advantage of the fact that there were national audits before and after the lockdown, and we’re comparing progress over that period with the same period in the previous three years,” the researchers explained in the article published on SocArXiv, a website that published in advance published printed and unverified papers.

Students were assessed in math, spelling, and reading. Math problems were both abstract and direct, while reading material tested literary and factual knowledge. For spelling, the students were given a series of words to be written on a piece of paper.

The grades were compared with the national average test scores for the past three academic years. Their scores fell 3.13 percentage points; a deviation of 0.08 points from the national average.

Loss in the school years

The Oxford researchers estimated that students lost a fifth of a school year, suggesting that studying from home is not entirely fruitful. This could be more problematic for countries that cannot offer distance learning facilities. In some situations, parents likely couldn’t offer much support as they cope with the financial blows caused by the pandemic.

The learning losses were greater in disadvantaged families. The World Bank used simulations to assess the extent of losses after three, five and seven months and in different classes. The study was carried out in 157 countries. It found that students in these countries would have had three to nine months of education behind them.

In the USA

Similarly, US public school students who went to school online. This is based on early projections by the University of Virginia, Brown University, and the Northwest Evaluation Association nonprofit based in Portland, Oregon. Students have likely started a new school year with 37% to 50% of the math skills required to enter this class.

Most US states have not issued statewide directives against personal schooling, but make decisions based on the number of people infected per county.

According to Education Week, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico have ordered public schools to close completely starting November 2. However, New York, Delaware, North Carolina, West Virginia, New Mexico, Hawaii, California and Oregon have issued partial closings, subject to changes by local governments regarding the increase in COVID-19 cases.

Seema Prasad is a freelance health reporter based in Bengaluru, India. She tweeted @SeemaPrasad_me.


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