COVID-19 Learning Loss (News and Research 272)

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Long-term, nation-wide school closures result in learning losses. Future earning losses due to COVID-19 school closures expected: forecast $15 -$17 trillion worldwide.

Update for Europe and Central Asia

In Europe, 10 of 13 countries report learning loss amongst at least some students. COVD-19 education closures resulted in actual student learning losses, equivalent to about 1/3 of a year’s worth of learning. Learning losses disproportionately affect those from poorer socioeconomic backgrounds.

Actual Learning Loss in ECA – 1/3 year of learning
CountryLearning lossActual learning loss (standard deviations)Equity impact
Netherlands YES-0.11YES
Switzerland YES-0.20
*One university, one faculty only

Belgium 2 years later:

  • Reading scores continue to decline
  • For math, the impact of the COVID-19 school closures is halted, but not reversed yet
  • For science, students in the 2021 cohort have started catching up (though insignificantly)
  • Math scores of best-performing students significantly declined
  • Remedial actions (summer school) focusing on most vulnerable successful

Denmark – 14 months into pandemic:

  • No evidence of any major learning slide
  • While pupils in grade 8 experienced a 3 percentile points loss in reading, pupils in grades 2 and 4 experienced a learning gain of about 5 percentile points
  • Little evidence of widening learning gaps by family background, except in grade 8
  • Boys and low-performing pupils suffered more from school closures
  • Students’ online reading behavior increased significantly during closures
  • Inequality in reading behavior during COVID-19 increased exclusively during first lockdown
  • Only short-term increase in inequality on children’s actual reading activity during COVID-19

England – significant learning loss:

  • -0.11 SD
  • -0.17 SD
  • including losses also over summer
  • and an estimate of students being behind 1.7 to 2 months

France – 2 years in:

  • 2020: learning loss
  • By 2021, scores rebounded
  • Results will be returned to parents, along with progress report, with advice so that they can better help them progress


  • Latest study reports on the impact of the first school closure for vulnerable student groups in grades 3 – 5 in schools serving a high percentage of students from disadvantaged backgrounds
  • School closures caused discontinuity in students’ achievement growth on national standardized tests and led to an average learning loss of 2.5 months in math and 2.4 in reading
  • Exceeding the duration of the school closure

Since resources spent on education build human capital, then a 1/3 of a years’ worth of learning loss translates to at least 3% earnings loss. In ECA, it is estimated that each student stands to lose $686 annually, for a lifetime per student loss of $16,883. Total losses are projected at $2.9 trillion.  Lifetime losses as % current GDP amount to 13%. In annualized terms, these losses equal 0.6 percent of lost GDP.

Policies for recovery in post-pandemic education | This space was held on Thursday, December 9, and was broadcast live by ICARE TV | In addition,  Susana Claro (University of Chile), moderated this forum, which was attended by prominent national and international guests: Harry Patrinos, Becky Francis (Educational Endowment Foundation), Márcio Pereira de Brito (Ceará), Verónica Cabezas (University of Chile), Francisco Gallego (University of Chile J-Pal), Jorge Poblete (Undersecretary of Education of the Ministry of Education, Chile)

School Choice in the Post-Pandemic Era | Harvard University | Home Taubman Center for State and Local Government | What does the latest research tell us about school choice worldwide? Panelists: Eric Bettinger, Professor (Stanford University), Harry Patrinos, Abhijeet Singh (Stockholm School of Economics) | See session on YouTube