The World Bank published in May this year a review of the research articles that have estimated the learning loss caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. In this work, researchers Patrinos, Vegas, and Carter-Rau carry out an exhaustive review of the evidence that shows the effect of the closure of educational centers, interruptions in teaching, and the introduction of online or blended classes between March 2020 and March 2022.
Specifically, the authors identify 36 rigorous studies that find, on average, that the pandemic has caused a loss of the equivalent of between one quarter and half a year of learning in non-university students. Furthermore, most analyzes find that the impact of the pandemic on academic progress has been more negative for disadvantaged students, such that educational inequalities have increased relative to the pre-COVID-19 situation.
Learning loss has intensified the skills gap by socio-economic level. Access to broadband internet service is not the same in all homes. Young people from disadvantaged homes have had to share a computer among all family members, if they have a computer, and have been able to count on less support from parents with homework due to their obligation to work outside or their lower cognitive ability. Online education harms the group of lagging students who are precisely those who most need the support and reinforcement of teachers in the classroom. Following online classes without a teacher requires high levels of motivation, self-regulation, discipline, and organization.
The World Bank document concludes that the negative impact on learning can have long-lasting consequences. In the first months of the pandemic, Almudena Sevilla (London School of Economics), Jorge Sainz (URJC) and I wrote a post in which we already pointed out that current students would lose 2.5% of their future income. An estimate very close to the final of 2.7%.
If the return on an additional year of education is approximately 8%, and the average student has missed at least a third of the school year, then a negative impact on future wages of 2.7% could be estimated. This effect will be greater for young people from disadvantaged families and with less educated parents because they have less training to adapt to the changing needs after a crisis and the greater adoption of new technologies (including Artificial Intelligence) that they bring with them.
Among the measures that could be put in place to cushion this learning loss is the implementation of tutoring in small reinforcement groups and support for lagging students. Small group tutoring is one of the educational measures for which there is empirical evidence of effectiveness in rigorous research studies. These tutorials can be a good complement to an educational system that is designed to move a large number of students from grade to grade, but that does not work for a part of the students.
A review of 96 articles of rigorous randomized experiments shows that the effect of half-hour-a-day language and math tutoring for 12 weeks in small groups can offset learning loss caused by the pandemic. The ESADE randomized experiment carried out by researchers Gortázar, Roldán, Hupkau, Pillado and Arriola showed that tutoring in small groups also works in Spain, providing a significant improvement in mathematics learning for students most affected in their academic progress for the pandemic.
- Ishmael Sanz He is a full professor of Applied Economics at the Rey Juan Carlos University.