COVID-19: Scale of education loss ‘nearly insurmountable’, warns UNICEF | UNICEF Canada: For Every Child Skip to main content
Publication Date: 2022/01/24

NEW YORK, 24 January 2022 – More than 635 million students remain affected by full or partial school closures. On the International Day of Education and as the COVID-19 pandemic nears its two-year mark, UNICEF shares the latest available data on the impact of the pandemic on children’s learning.

“In March, we will mark two years of COVID-19-related disruptions to global education. 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.”

Children have lost basic numeracy and literacy skills. Globally, disruption to education has meant 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.

  • In low- and middle-income countries, learning losses to school closures have left up to 70 per cent of 10-year-olds unable to read or understand a simple text, up from 53 per cent pre-pandemic.
  • In Ethiopia, primary school children are estimated to have learned between 30 to 40 per cent of the math they would have learned if it had been a normal school year.
  • In the US, learning losses have been observed in many states including Texas, California, Colorado, Tennessee, North Carolina, Ohio, Virginia and Maryland. 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.
  • In several Brazilian states, around 3 in 4 children in grade 2 are off-track in reading, up from 1 in 2 children pre-pandemic. Across Brazil, 1 in 10 students aged 10-15 reported they are not planning to return to school once their schools reopen. 
  • In South Africa, schoolchildren are between 75 per cent and a full school year behind where they should be. Some 400,000 to 500,000 students reportedly dropped out of school altogether between March 2020 and July 2021.
     

Follow-on consequences of school closures are on the rise. 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 abuse.

  • 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.
  • More than 370 million children globally missed out on school meals during school closures, losing what is for some children the only reliable source of food and daily nutrition.

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Notes to editors: 

Sources:

State of the Global Education Crisis report

National Income Dynamics Study (NIDS) – Coronavirus Rapid Mobile Survey (CRAM) Wave 5 and Department of Basic Education.

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About UNICEF

UNICEF is the world’s leading humanitarian organization focused on children. We work in the most challenging areas to provide protection, healthcare and immunizations, education, safe water and sanitation and nutrition. As part of the United Nations, our unrivaled reach spans more than 190 countries and territories, ensuring we are on the ground to help the most disadvantaged children. While part of the UN system, UNICEF relies entirely on voluntary donations to finance our life-saving work. Please visit unicef.ca and follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

For further information:

Laurence Bodjrenou
Senior Manager, Communications
lbodjrenou@unicef.ca
514 288-5134 ext 8426 / 514-232-4510

Emily O’Connor
Communications Manager
EOconnor@unicef.ca
416 482-6552 ext 8866 / 647-500-4230