The effects of the COVID-19 crisis on learning are particularly worrisome as underscored in a recent article in The Economist. This is especially true at the primary level as basic competencies are the building blocks for all education and are strong predictors of life opportunities.
These skills are the easiest to lose when schooling is interrupted, as studies on reading ability losses during vacations show, and the hardest to regain once schooling restarts. Yet, they present a fertile area for improvement as the techniques to acquire foundational skills are better known than those used to augment skills at the secondary education level or in more specialized subjects.
Learning losses measured soon after the disruption, as a study from South Africa shows, are greater than what actual days of schooling lost suggest. It is unclear whether these losses worsen, stay the same or shrink over time.
However, it is likely that the impacts worsen over time if learning losses are not addressed, as learning is cumulative and children who are left behind will lag even further. This is what key research in Pakistan showed years after the 2005 earthquake.
Thus, a prudent and reasonable assumption is that such losses will worsen without adequate interventions, such as remedial classes and additional time allotted to complete classes.
Projected figures illustrate the learning gaps and simulate a worst-case scenario for education systems that do not adopt catch-up strategies relative to those that do.