Long Term Impact of School Closure
The COVID-19 crisis has forced school closures in 188 countries, heavily disrupting the learning process of more than 1.7 billion children, youth, and their families. During this time, distance-learning solutions were implemented to ensure education continuity, and much of the current debate focuses on how much students have learnt during school closures. However, while this potential learning loss may only be temporary, other elements that happen in the absence of traditional schooling, such as the curbing of educational aspirations or the disengagement from the school system, will have a long-term impact on students’ outcomes. This “hysteresis” effect in education requires specific attention, and this paper outlines a dual strategy to bring disengaged students back to school, and mitigate effectively student disengagement in case of future lockdowns.
Country representatives attending the yearly meeting of the OECD Implementing Education Policies project (June 2020) expressed their particular interest in measuring the potential learning loss associated to school closures. During this time, distance-learning solutions such as online classrooms, TV and radio broadcasts, and computer-assisted learning were implemented to bridge the gap between schools and learners, but the overall impact on learning remains uncertain.
On the one hand, how much students have learnt during school closures — the “intensive margin” — refers to the efficiency of education continuity solutions. It is now the focus of analysis in many countries, as they aim to identify the most efficient distance-learning tools.
On the other hand, how many students who continued to learn during the school closures — the “extensive margin” — refers to the share of students engaged in the education continuity solutions. It reveals a different issue, as distance-learning solutions are often associated with attendance challenges and higher absenteeism. In Los Angeles (United States), the nation’s second-largest school district, around 13% of high school students still had not had any contact with teaching staff three weeks following the lockdown. These attendance challenges, still largely undocumented, increase the risk of disengagement or dropout, especially among students in difficult socio-economic and family situations.
In the meantime, governments can establish different forms of targeted communication to reinitiate contact with disengaged students, and adopt a flexible curriculum centered on key competences to restore students’ confidence. Second, countries need to prepare strategies to mitigate effectively this risk in case of future lockdowns. This can include among others:
- To monitor closely student engagement by following up on their attendance, behavior, and learning progress.
- To address the potential barriers to student engagement by offering adequate resources (such as laptops or tablets, and safe places to learn).
- To provide individualized support to students so they can get the best out of the new modes of education delivery.