Education and COVID; the COVID-19 pandemic has unprecedentedly shocked the education system in history, disrupting the lives of nearly 1.6 billion pupils and students in more than 190 countries on all continents. School closures and other learning places have affected 94% of the world's educated population and up to 99% in low- and lower-middle-income countries.

Education is currently facing a threat of an exceptional crisis. This situation arises in the context of a global learning crisis: many schoolchildren do not acquire the fundamentals intended to prepare them for life. According to the World Bank's "learning poverty" indicator, 53% of 10-year-olds in developing countries are unable to read and understand the age-appropriate text. The current pandemic may make this situation even worse if we do not act quickly.

1. Education and COVID; what is the impact of the pandemic on education?

The impact of Covid-19 on education is particularly dramatic in countries already with low learning outcomes, high dropout rates, and limited resilience to shocks. If the closure of schools seems to be a logical decision to impose social distancing in the population, this remoteness tends to have disproportionately negative impacts overtime on the most vulnerable students at home. The possibilities to learn are limited, and their presence can weaken parents' economic situation, forced to find sustainable solutions for support, or compensate for the disappearance of school meals.

The advances obtained at the cost of great efforts to extend access to education could mark time or even shift with the prolonged closure of schools. Knowing that the alternative solutions (distance learning in particular) will be inaccessible for the students, households deprived of means of connection. As a result, human capital losses could worsen, and access to economic opportunities diminish.

Besides its direct impact on schooling, the pandemic has other implications such as the possible use of school infrastructure as makeshift hospitals, knowing that in some rural areas where there is little infrastructure, the school may be the only public building available.

This may result in a longer interruption of education services as the building is unavailable for educational purposes. Besides, within the framework of coping mechanisms (discussed below), the practice of offering alternative distance learning services may yield better results for students from households with better connectivity and higher digital skills in the base. As a result, those who are already disadvantaged fall further behind. Thus, a decision to close schools that is accompanied by poorly designed coping mechanisms can exacerbate inequalities in education.

2. Education and COVID; Will the COVID change the organization of education in the future?

It is effectively changing the way education is currently organized. Since 156 countries have partially or fully closed schools to contain the disease's spread, this closure affects 82% of students in schools and higher education globally. So the answer is yes, it is changing education in its present form, and it will surely also change the way it operates in the future.

Related: The impact of Covid-19 on the environment, economy and social life

3. Education and COVID; consequences of school closures

The closure, even temporary, of schools entail high social and economic costs. The disruption it induces affects all communities, but the consequences are particularly severe for disadvantaged children and their families.

3.1 Interruption of learning

Teaching provides essential learning. Closing schools, therefore, deprives children and young people of opportunities for development and improvement. The disadvantages are major for disadvantaged pupils, who generally have access to a smaller number of educational possibilities outside the school setting.

3.2 Food

Many children and young people rely on free or inexpensive school meals for food and healthy diets. As a result, school closures have an impact on nutrition.

3.3 Unprepared parents for distance and home education

When schools close, parents have to facilitate learning at home, but they may have difficulty cope with this task. This is especially true for parents with limited education and resources.

3.4 Inequality of access to digital learning portals

Insufficient access to technology or a good Internet connection is an obstacle to learning continuity, especially for students from disadvantaged families.

3.5 Mechanical impact on the health system

Women represent many health professionals, yet they are often unable to come to work to look after their children due to the schools’ closure. Many medical professionals are therefore absent from health facilities, while during these times of health crisis, they are needed the most.

4. Education and COVID; how to limit the impact of COVID pandemic on education?

4.1 Apply and support preventive measures in schools

Most governments have deployed awareness campaigns on hygiene and sanitation among students through schools (and other platforms).

4.2 Limit physical contact by reducing social and extracurricular activities

Many countries have reduced or canceled extracurricular, athletic, or group activities to reduce contact physically. This measure has been taken by schools themselves, by regions, or at the national level, by governments wishing to impose social distancing. Governments have imposed an assembly ban on certain numbers of participants in countries in Europe and the Middle East, including school sports events and non-essential events.

4.3 Distance learning to alleviate learning loss

During the school closures, many countries turned to distance education as a measure to mitigate wasted time and maintain education services. Some countries simply put resources on their website and make more products available, but not necessarily online courses. Others require teachers to prepare online content and offer online courses. The infrastructure and good knowledge of the tools seem to be the engine of success (and problems) in this learning approach. China, for example, with its robust connectivity, has done well with distance education, while other countries with limited Internet, cellphone, or TV penetration have difficulty reaching all students equally. In addition, many countries struggle to ensure equal access to education services for employees/students with disabilities.

Originally published on Live Positively.