Global Education Data

New UNICEF Report: Scale of Education Loss During Pandemic 'Nearly Insurmountable"

Marking the International Day of Education on Monday, Jan. 24, UNICEF today released a new report illustrating the “nearly insurmountable” impact of COVID-19 disruptions on children’s learning around the globe.

As the pandemic nears the two-year mark, more than 635 million students remain affected by school closures and interruptions, UNICEF said in a news release. Since the pandemic began, children have lost ground on basic numeracy and literacy skills, the organization’s data reveals.

The loss of classroom time means “millions of children have significantly missed out on the academic learning they would have acquired if they had been in the classroom, with younger and more marginalized children facing the greatest loss,” UNICEF said.

“Quite simply, we are looking at a nearly insurmountable scale of loss to children’s schooling,” said Robert Jenkins, UNICEF chief of education. “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.”

The report coincides with a study from UNESCO’s Institute for Statistics and the Global Education Monitoring Report, also released today, finding that according to countries’ own benchmarks, nations participating in UNESCO’s Sustainable Development Goal 4 of ensuring inclusive and equitable quality education and lifelong learning opportunities for all by 2030 will not meet their own goals. “This is a wakeup call for the world’s leaders as millions of children will continue to miss out on school and high-quality learning,” UNESCO said in a news release.

UNICEF noted that while the pandemic’s impact on student achievement is far more pronounced in poorer nations — learning losses to school closures have left up to 70% of 10-year-olds unable to read or understand a simple text, up from 53% pre-pandemic, the report said — students in the United States have suffered as well.

“Learning losses have been observed in many states including Texas, California, Colorado, Tennessee, North Carolina, Ohio, Virginia and Maryland,” the organization said. “In Texas, for example, two-thirds of children in grade 3 tested below their grade level in math in 2021, compared to half of children in 2019.”

The consequences of school closures have begun to show up in other ways, as well, UNICEF noted. In addition to learning loss, school closures have impacted children’s mental health, reduced their access to a regular source of nutrition, and increased their risk of being abused.

“A growing body of evidence shows that COVID-19 has caused high rates of anxiety and depression among children and young people, with some studies finding that girls, adolescents and those living in rural areas are most likely to experience these problems,” UNICEF’s report said.

One of UNICEF’s solutions to help slow learning losses and close the learning poverty gap for students during the pandemic is its Learning Passport, which last week surpassed 2 million users across 20 countries, the organization said.

Developed by UNICEF and Microsoft, Learning Passport was introduced globally in spring 2020 as a free online learning platform that can be used both online and offline to help children continue their education, no matter the barriers to attending school. Learn more about how the Learning Passport is helping students in UNICEF’s video below or on the Learning Passport website.

About the Author

Kristal Kuykendall is editor, 1105 Media Education Group. She can be reached at [email protected].