Monday, July 11, 2022

The Calamity Caused by School Closings

None of this should come as a surprise. We have done our best on this blog to cover the catastrophic learning loss suffered by schoolchildren during the pandemic. Apparently, it is a worldwide phenomenon, and the data is certainly not encouraging.

This week The Economist magazine has a long and detailed analysis of the horrifying level of learning loss around the world. It does not, curiously, have very much to say about America, and this makes its analysis incomplete. It says little about Europe, aside from the fact that France, for example, mostly kept schools open. Still, the magazine is a reliable source of information. It is not like the mainstream American media.

So, examine the Economist report in detail.

When covid-19 first began to spread around the world, pausing normal lessons was a forgivable precaution. No one knew how transmissible the virus was in classrooms; how sick youngsters would become; or how likely they would be to infect their grandparents. But disruptions to education lasted long after encouraging answers to these questions emerged.

Actually, your humble blogger did say, often enough, that the damage would be very bad indeed. Thus, we do not belong to the group that imagined that it was not such a big problem:

New data suggest that the damage has been worse than almost anyone expected. Locking kids out of school has prevented many of them from learning how to read properly. Before the pandemic 57% of ten-year-olds in low and middle-income countries could not read a simple story, says the World Bank. That figure may have risen to 70%, it now estimates. The share of ten-year-olds who cannot read in Latin America, probably the worst-affected region, could rocket from around 50% to 80% (see chart 1).

Learning loss is worse in Latin America. But then, how many Latin American children are now coming to the United States? And how will they affect American children when they are placed in local classrooms?

What is the cost of this learning loss?

Children who never master the basics will grow up to be less productive and to earn less. McKinsey, a consultancy, estimates that by 2040 education lost to school closures could cause global gdp to be 0.9% lower than it would otherwise have been—an annual loss of $1.6trn. The World Bank thinks the disruption could cost children $21trn in earnings over their lifetimes—a sum equivalent to 17% of global gdp today. That is much more than the $10trn it had estimated in 2020, and also an increase on the $17trn it was predicting last year.

Roughly as happened in America, the poor suffered more than the rich. Poor children around the world will bear the brunt of these policies, which the Economist correctly notes, were promoted by the teachers’ unions. For the harm they have visited on poor children, for having effectively destroyed their futures, the heads of the teachers’ unions should be prosecuted:

Poorer countries stayed closed longer than their neighbours. Places with low-performing schools kept them shut for longer than others in their regions. Closures were often long in places where teachers’ unions were especially powerful, such as Mexico and parts of the United States. Unions have fought hard to keep schools closed long after it was clear that this would harm children.

Things were different around the world. France led the world in quickly opening schools:

Places where schooling is controlled locally have found it harder to reopen. In highly centralised France, President Emmanuel Macron decreed that all but the eldest pupils would return to school nationwide before the end of the 2020 summer term. It was the first big European country to do this. This gave other countries more confidence to follow. By contrast, decisions about reopening in places such as Brazil dissolved into local squabbles. In America a full year separated the districts that were first and last to restart properly.

Among the worst was Mexico, source of many of our new illegal migrants:

Mexico enforced one of the world’s longest nationwide school closures, lasting more than 50 weeks. In theory its schools are now open but many children are absent. In Colegio Laureles—a school in Chiapas, Mexico’s poorest state—staff are trying simultaneously to teach children in the classroom and remotely. Ten months after Mexico’s classrooms started to reopen, perhaps only half of that school’s pupils have returned. Some are still in places their families went to during the pandemic, such as Argentina and Brazil.

Children in Great Britain and America fell behind in math, by two or more months:

In England test scores at the start of the 2021-22 school year suggest that primary-school kids were almost two months behind where they should be in maths, and one month in reading. Similar research in America found that children were on average between 8-19 weeks behind.

Apparently, learning loss was more acute in math than in reading. And, again, it hurt poor children more than wealthy children:

Around the world children have fallen further behind in maths than in reading. Pupils of primary-school age have drifted further back than older ones. Learners who were doing worse before the pandemic have generally dealt worse with the disruptions. And studies everywhere find that within each country, poorer children appear to have suffered more than richer ones. A paper from America examines the progress of children in schools that stayed remote for longer than half of the 2020-21 school year. It finds children enrolled at institutions which had lots of poor pupils lost nearly twice as much learning during that time as did those in schools where children were mostly better off.

And then there is the question of how to help children to catch up. It is apparently doable, but it is certainly not as easy as proponents of the lockdowns pretended:

To reduce the harm caused by school closures, countries will have to pull out all the stops to help children catch up. A good start would be to get them all back into classrooms. Even then, “business as usual” won’t do, says Jaime Saavedra of the World Bank. Children who have not received the right support when they have returned to school may still be falling behind.

The gap between the best and the rest, a gap that will surely make itself known in the eventual ability to earn a living, became so marked that many poor children have simply dropped out of school:

Before the pandemic many teachers had to struggle through dense curriculums packed with inessential stuff. Their task is made harder by the way the pandemic has widened the gap between the best- and worst-performing students in each class. Pupils who found schooling tiresome before covid are even more disengaged now. Many have dropped out. Trying to race pupils through more material in less time may prompt even more to give up.

The Economist assures us that countries have been thinking about the problem. They have tried employed tutors for the children who are behind, with some limited success:

Three-quarters of countries have put some thought into catch-up, according to a survey by unicef. Nearly 70% of those have slimmed down curriculums. Efforts in Indonesia and South Africa to carve out more of the school day for reading and maths are especially notable, boffins say.

Rich countries have commonly put money into tutoring, which is the most reliable way of helping struggling students. 

Data from a few rich countries suggest that schoolchildren in those places are gradually catching up. Although primary-school pupils in England are about two months behind in maths, that is much better than in autumn 2020, when they lagged by three-and-a-half months. By last autumn third-graders in Ohio had made back two-thirds of the learning that was found to have been lost by the start of the 2020-21 school year (when they were about one-third of a year behind where they would normally have been).


One Jaime Saavedra, who leads the Education Global Practice group at the World Bank, is far from optimistic:

Mr Saavedra says school closures have caused perhaps “the worst educational crisis for a century, and certainly since the world wars”. He worries that too few countries have recognised the scale of the disaster, and that the true cost will not be visible for years. “My fear is that 15 years from now people will be writing papers documenting consistently lower earnings, productivity and well-being for people who are now between six and 20 years old,” he says. “I don’t see societies taking this seriously.”

And, from Mexico, the source of many of America’s new class of illegal migrants, here is the news:

Teachers in Chiapas, and across Mexico, agree that children are struggling. They are “two years” behind where they should be, says Vianney Narváez, a teacher in Mexico City. “The main focus has had to be on whether they are okay, not their education.” 

Teachers report that basic skills such as handwriting and spelling have gone backwards. School buildings have decayed. Some were looted or damaged during long closures. Parents have been asked to chip in for repairs.


Anonymous said...

"Roughly as happened in America, the poor suffered more than the rich. Poor children around the world will bear the brunt of these policies, which the Economist correctly notes, were promoted by the teachers’ unions." Teachers' Unions DELENDA EST!!! (My parents were teachers. And I'm old. So old, my records are vynyl 78s.)

Bill Jones said...

Thanks for this.
I Linked it at Steve Sailer.
There are increasing waves of data about the fatalities caused by the clot shot, Counties in which “Sudden Death” is the leading cause, record orderings of child size coffins etc etc.
But no plague designed to produce The Thick and the Dead would be complete without the Thick. There are lots of them. Who knew that teaching nothing produces know-nothings?

Covid is just one more grift that keeps om giving.