More than 100 million more children than expected, are falling behind the minimum proficiency level in reading, due to COVID-related school closures, a new study released on Friday by the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) reveals.
According to the study, the number of children lacking basic reading skills was on a downward curve prior to the pandemic, and expected to fall from 483 million to 460 million in 2020.
Instead, in 2020, the number jumped to 584 million. The rise of more than 20%, wiped out two decades of education gains, the agency said.
UNESCO is preparing to invite education ministers around the world to participate in a meeting on Monday, March 29, under the title “One year into COVID: Prioritizing education recovery to avoid a generational catastrophe”.
To tackle what UNESCO has called a potential “generational catastrophe”, it is calling for “reopening schools and supporting teachers; mitigating drop-out and learning losses; and accelerating the digital transformation”.
The report said that since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, complete or partial closures have disrupted schooling for an average of 25 weeks.
The highest learning losses projected to be in the Latin America and Caribbean region, and in Central and Southern Asia.
Projections indicate that learning loss rates will be highest in Latin America and the Caribbean, and in Central and South Asia.
The UNESCO report concludes that recovery could occur by 2024 “if exceptional efforts are made to provide remedial classes and catch-up strategies”.
Only a quarter of students are benefiting from remedial education, according to new data from a joint survey conducted by UNESCO and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF).
Schools remain closed in 30 countries, affecting some 165 million students. In another 70 countries, schools are still partially open in some regions and for certain classes, or with less personal attendance.
These conditions affect two-thirds of the world’s student population, that is, nearly a billion learners.