The Global Learning Crisis (News and Research 279)

Mapping the Global Learning Crisis | Despite record enrollments in school worldwide, learning is limited

More young children are enrolled in primary school today than any other time in history. Yet achievement data shows that student learning has remained nearly flat over the last two decades in all regions of the world, Noam Angrist (University of Oxford), Simeon Djankov (Peterson Institute for International Economics), Pinelopi Goldberg (Peterson Institute for International Economics), and Harry Patrinos (World Bank) report in a new article for Education Next.

And even wealthy countries, like the United States, are not immune to what international organizations have termed the global “learning crisis.”

Read the article at

Among the key findings:

  • A new database of detailed student-achievement data from 164 countries suggests that greater school enrollments have been followed by little to no growth in learning in most parts of the world. The Harmonized Learning Outcomes database includes student-achievement data from 164 countries, allowing the authors to compare student performance in regions that are typically excluded from international comparisons, such as sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America, to that of more affluent students in Europe and North America. The data cover 98 percent of the global population and track student-learning outcomes from 2000 to 2017
  • A strong link between student learning and economic growth. Levels of student learning, as measured by performance on standardized tests, have a stronger and more positive relationship to economic growth than the number of years students attend school
  • An imperfect relationship between learning and per-capita income. Many countries, such as the United States, perform about as well on standardized measures of achievement as their relative income levels would predict. But others, like Singapore and Poland, perform far better, while countries like South Africa and Kuwait have lower than predicted scores

“Expansion in access to school may provide more opportunities to learn and may have other benefits as well, but schooling does not guarantee learning, and the relationship is not one to one,” the authors write.

Read the article at | Education Next is a scholarly journal committed to careful examination of evidence relating to school reform, published by the Education Next Institute and the Program on Education Policy and Governance at the Harvard Kennedy School. For more information, please visit

New Learning Loss Research

COVID-19 Restrictions and Its Influence on Students’ Mathematics Achievement in Spain | COVID-19 restrictions in schools worldwide constitute an important limitation for peer support among students. The masks, the distance between tables or the established sitting order are new challenges that both students and teachers must face in Spain. The conventional strategies that took place among students prior to the COVID-19 pandemic have been altered. In this study, the mathematics achievement of high-school students prior to the COVID-19 pandemic and during the COVID-19 pandemic is examined. Quantitative and qualitative methods were used. A total of 368 students from 9th grade (ages 14 to 15) participated in this research. Statistically significant differences were reported when comparing the mathematics achievement of pre-COVID-19 and post-COVID-19 students (t = 22.21, p < 0.01). An overall negative effect size of −2.32 was reported for those students with COVID-19 restrictions. Mathematics achievement scores were 9.90% lower for the group with restrictions. No statistically significant differences were reported when analyzing results by gender or repeating condition. The qualitative information supported the quantitative findings. Alterations in peer support was identified as one of the main factors that could explain this decrease. The main conclusion of this study is that current restrictions due to COVID-19 could be producing an important decrease in students’ mathematics achievements.

A longitudinal perspective on the effects of Covid-19 on students’ resilience. The Effect of the pandemic on the reading and mathematics achievement of 8th and 5th graders in Italy | We examine the effect of Covid-19 on students’ achievement in mathematics and reading in primary and lower secondary schools in Italy. We use longitudinal, population level data from the INVALSI assessment. We compare the math and reading achievement of students in grades 5 and 8 in academic year 2020-21 with the achievement of students in the same grades in 2018-19 (no administration took place in academic year 2019-20). We find that on average, the grade 5 Covid-cohort experienced small increases in math and reading achievement compared to the grade 5 Non-Covid cohort. By contrast, the grade 8 Covid cohort experienced a sizeable reduction in math achievement and a smaller reduction in reading achievement compared to the Non-Covid cohort. We explore heterogeneity by students’ level of prior achievement, socio-economic status, gender and province of residence. The negative effects of the pandemic were generally greater for previously low achieving students, many of whom had a disadvantaged socio-economic condition. However, the pandemic reduced SES differentials in math and reading achievement among students with equal achievement and this effect was especially pronounced among higher achieving students. It also reduced gender gaps in mathematics among higher achievers in grade 8. At the national level, the pandemic reduced to a larger degree the achievement of students living in Northern provinces, where pre-pandemic achievement was higher. At the local level, the pandemic led to increases in achievement disparities in the South, where effects were either positive or less negative among the highest achievers, but it led to reductions in achievement disparities in the North because the effects were mostly concentrated among highest achievers.

The Impact of COVID-19-Related School Closures on Student Achievement—A Meta-Analysis | COVID-19 led to school closures and the necessity to use remote learning in 2020 and 2021 around the globe. This article provides results for a three-level random-effects meta-analysis examining the average effect of the COVID-19-related school closures with respect to several moderator variables. The results showed a robust average effect of d = −0.175(SE = 0.063, p = 0.013, 95%CI[−0.308, −0.041]). The moderator analysis was largely insignificant; however, the results tentatively point out that younger students in schools were more negatively affected compared to older students, and that the negative effect reduced with subsequent lockdowns in autumn and winter 2020/2021. The results are discussed with respect to potential explanations.

Other News

Estonia May Untie the Basic School Exam from Graduation | Estonia’s Ministry of Education and Research is proposing to end the requirement that students pass the national basic school exam to graduate. The Ministry would still require students to take the end of 8th grade exam, just not meet a certain score to move on to secondary school. Ülle Matsin, the head of General Education Policy at the Ministry, said that the exam was canceled during the pandemic and that this “exception allowed us to see what it means” in practice not to require students to pass the exam. Many upper secondary schools in Estonia have entrance exams, which students are more focused on than the lower school graduation exams in any case.

Role Models in Movies: The Impact of Queen of Katwe on Students’ Educational Attainment | This paper presents experimental evidence on the impact of a role model on secondary school students’ exam performance in Uganda. Students were individually randomised to see either a movie featuring a female role model, Queen of Katwe, or to see a placebo movie. I find that treatment with the role model immediately before an important national exam leads to students performing better in their exams, particularly in maths subjects, with effects largest for female students. Female students exposed to the role model are more likely to remain in education in subsequent years, closing the gender gap with their male peers.


How Education Can Help Mitigate the Consequences of the COVID-19 Pandemic | Annual joint Summer School on role of education in social and economic development- HSE University and World Bank | June 14 – 21, 2022 | Application Deadline: May 1, 2022 | Participation is free | Moscow, HSE Institute of Education | Language: English | Accommodation: organized and paid for by the participants themselves | Lecture topics: The problems of inequality and access to education under COVID-19; Learning Loss: New tools and approaches; The economics of education in the COVID-19 era; The role of initiative and agency to survive in the storm; Entrepreneurship training – in response to the crisis: approaches and solutions | Read more and register