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Oxford study shows one third of learning was lost during the pandemic

According to a study published in Human Nature Behaviour on the 30th of January, school children have lost one third of what they would have learned in a normal school year due to the pandemic and lockdown.

 The paper on learning during the COVID-19 pandemic, written by Dr Betthäuser, Dr Bach-Mortenson and Dr Engzell, suggests that students lost out on ‘about 35% of a school year’s worth of learning’. Through a systematic review and meta-analysis of the evidence, the paper concluded that on average, the learning progress of school-aged children ‘slowed substantially’ during the pandemic.

The paper reports that long-term impacts from the pandemic on school education is inevitable and uses historical precedents to justify its conclusions. The study illustrates that though some may have expected children to recover learning after adjustments to new learning conditions were made: “existing research on teacher strikes in Belgium and Argentina, shortened school years in Germany and disruptions to education during World War II suggests that learning deficits are difficult to compensate and tend to persist in the long run”.

 The study suggests that any fears of an “accumulation of learning deficits” have not materialised and Dr Betthäuser told the university that on a positive side, as the pandemic continued, parents, teachers and children were ‘successful in preventing early learning deficits from growing even larger’ than they already were.

 It shows that progress in Maths learning has been heavily affected. Moreover, it depicts how the pandemic intensified the educational inequalities between children from different socio-economic backgrounds. This gap was already large before the pandemic hit and is only worsening.

 There were heightened disparities between countries with higher-income and lower-income countries, many of which were already struggling from education crises before 2020. Indeed, from undertaking the meta-analysis, Dr Bach-Mortensen notes that ‘children in poorer countries lost out on more learning than their peers in richer countries’.

The study proposes that policy initiatives to counteract learning deficits and discrepancies need to prioritise supporting children from lower socio-economic backgrounds in order to aid recovery of the critical learning they lost during the COVID-19 outbreak and spread.

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