The World Bank has raised fears concerning the possibility of governments shutting down schools across the world due to the ravaging Omicron variant of the coronavirus. The apex financial body said this in a recently released report titled “Reversing the Pandemic’s Education Losses”.
According to the report, no fewer than 647 million school children are yet to fully resume for either physical or online learning. It also observed that those hardest hit by the negative effects of the pandemic on education globally are school children in developing nations.
“When schools around the world moved online due to COVID-19, children in developing countries suffered the most. Even though digital learning does not produce the same outcomes as in-person education, technology used effectively can close educational gaps and prevent learning loss”.
“As the third year of the COVID-19 pandemic approaches, classrooms remain fully or partially closed for as many as 647 million schoolchildren around the world. Even where schools have reopened, many students continue to lag behind. It is now abundantly and painfully clear that children have learned less during the pandemic”.
The World Bank also estimates that pandemic-related school closures could drive up “learning poverty” – affecting mainly 10-year-olds who cannot read a basic text – to around 70 percent in low and middle-income countries. The cost of this learning loss to an entire generation of schoolchildren, in terms of lifetime earnings, is estimated at 17 trillion dollars.
“As the Omicron variant takes hold, more governments may be tempted to close schools. Without the online infrastructure in place to support learning, doing so would extend the educational losses and deny children many other benefits of daily school attendance, like the possibility to connect with classmates and develop social skills for personal growth”.
“Interactions with teachers and peers are essential to develop the abilities necessary to work collaboratively. Being part of a class promotes a sense of belonging and helps build self-esteem and empathy. Throughout the pandemic, marginalized children have struggled the most. When classrooms around the world reopened this fall, it became clear that these children had fallen even further behind their peers”.
Before the pandemic, gender parity in education was improving. But school closures placed an estimated 10 million more girls at risk of early marriage, which practically guarantees the end of their schooling. Unless this regression is reversed, learning poverty and the associated human capital loss will hold economies and societies back for decades. Children must be given a chance to recover the education they have lost”.
Calling for improved investment in infrastructure to move education to the digital level, the World Bank commended countries such Uruguay and India for recording significant strides in that direction.