Reading Loss During COVID-19: Early Data
The GBA was established in the recognition of the crucial role of books in the development of literacy skills, and the pervasive challenges in ensuring access. Across the globe, as coronavirus cases surge and schools in many countries are either fully or partially closed, access to books is more inequitable than ever.
Although data on learning loss during COVID-19 is still being gathered, the following are key takeaways from early data:
1 . SCHOOL CLOSURES LEAD TO LOSS OF LITERACY SKILLS, ESPECIALLY FOR BEGINNING READERS.
While it is difficult to measure what students are not learning, researchers from the Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) Institute of Health Professions and Georgia Institute for Technology predict that kindergartners in the USA will lose up to 67% of reading skills, depending on whether and how often caregivers read to the children. For older children who already had basic literacy skills when the pandemic hit, the loss of literacy has been less severe, but it is projected that children may return to school with only 65% of expected reading skills.
Data from the World Bank suggest that in Latin America, school closures will increase the share of students that do not meet minimum proficiency learning levels by up to 15%.
According to little available data, learning loss is expected to be greatest in Sub-Saharan Africa.
2 . REMOTE LEARNING, WHILE HELPFUL, IS NOT ACCESSIBLE TO MANY.
Recent data from UNICEF shows that a third of the world’s schoolchildren were not able to access remote learning. That amounted to 463 million students for whom school closure meant a full stop to their schooling. So while remote learning is helpful and needed, it is exacerbating existing inequalities in learning acquisition, including for reading skills.
In a series of student interviews with students from nine African countries between April and August of 2020, Human Rights Watch found that many were asked to study on their own, without support from a teacher, tutor, or parent.
3 . ACCESS TO READING MATERIAL AT HOME IS IMPORTANT, BUT IS MOST EFFECTIVE WHEN SUPPORTED BY A QUALIFIED ADULT.
Various groups and platforms rushed to make reading and learning materials available online for free, including a push to translate stories and add content to GBA’s flagship the Global Digital Library.
Access to reading material at home is thought to mitigate learning loss, when appropriately supported by a teacher or caregiver.
Parental supervision plays a major role in the success of remote learning, especially for younger students, and children of parents with higher education and/or socioeconomic status fare better. It is expected that reading to out-of-school kindergarteners could mitigate learning loss by 10.5%.
Learning to read is a complex, multi-stage process which requires many elements that go hand-in-hand. Unfortunately for all, the pandemic has disrupted many of these.
The provision of appropriate reading materials, whether physical or digital, is imperative to ensuring that children do not suffer long lasting damage during the crisis.
Bao, X.; Qu, H.; Zhang, R.; Hogan, T.P. (May 2020). Literacy Loss in Kindergarten Children during COVID-19 School Closures. Retrieved from https://www.researchgate.net/publication/341367955_Literacy_Loss_in_Kindergarten_Children_during_COVID-19_School_Closures
Di Gropello, E. (October 07, 2020). The costs of COVID-19 in education in Latin America. Acting now to protect the future of our children. Retrieved from https://blogs.worldbank.org/education/costs-covid-19-education-latin-america-acting-now-protect-future-our-children
The Economist. (April 30, 2020). Closing schools for covid-19 does lifelong harm and widens inequality. Retrieved from https://www.economist.com/international/2020/04/30/closing-schools-for-covid-19-does-lifelong-harm-and-widens-inequality
Education Development Center. (May 2020). COVID-19 Research. Retrieved from https://covid19research.edc.org/
Saavedra, J. (September 16, 2020). Getting children back to school: “We are in a hurry.” Retrieved from https://blogs.worldbank.org/education/getting-children-back-school-we-are-hurry
UNICEF Data Hub. (October 2020). COVID-19 and children. Retrieved from https://data.unicef.org/covid-19-and-children/