Global epidemics, pandemics and education in perspective (II)

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Photo: WHO AFRICA

Epidemic and Pandemic outbreaks have practically proven to be major nemesis to smooth implementation of national, sub-regional, regional and global development programmes to enhance competiveness of individual economies; while accelerating their respective growths. Practical occurrences, including partial and complete economic lockdowns, during the intense period of COVID-19 affirmed the rapidity with which the world has been reduced to “a small global village” through accelerated modernisation; and the advent of improved technological systems and standards.

Although the socio-economic effects of epidemics such as school closures are often restricted to individual economies in which they are recorded, the socio-economic magnitude of pandemics transcends borders of the country of origin to affect entire sub-region, region and the global community. The recent outbreak of COVID-19 and its portentous effects on individual economies, regional bodies and the global community remain a clear manifestation of the foregoing statement.

Pandemic Effects and Mitigation Measures

Extant literature affirmed the need for various governments that mooted the idea of school closures to be thanked unconditionally for taking that giant step to save the lives of learners in their respective jurisdictions; and across the globe. Wakara (2020) perceived school closures as an appropriate non-pharmaceutical tool for containment; and prevention of further spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, Wakara (2020) shared in views that called for various governments’ adaption of the right approach to minimise the adverse impact of COVID-19 on education.

Chang and Yano (2020) averred, evolution of the COVID-19 pandemic compelled affected countries and territories to adapt multiple approaches to mitigate its ominous impact on learning in particular; and on education in general. The authors indicated, policies required to stem the negative tide of the Coronavirus pandemic on learning transcended modalities identified to be rolled-out on distance learning. These modalities included measures intended to address the social dimension of the COVID-19 crisis.

Further, socialisation, including face-to-face interactions among learners, between learners and instructors and sporting activities was found to have “eluded” learners and instructors; following prolonged school closures emanating from outbreak of the Coronavirus pandemic. However, in some cases, the “lost” socialisation in some schools was redirected to other schools; albeit it intensified pressures on existing facilities in those schools.

As an example, UNESCO (2020a) shared, in some cases, not all schools are closed following the outbreak of an epidemic or a pandemic. In such situations, undue pressures are brought to bear on localised schools that remain open. Thus, governments and parents may redirect learners to schools that remained open during the COVID-19 period; and these may result in overcrowding and strain the limited educational facilities available in those localised areas.

Hakeem (2020) expressed surprise at measures adapted by the Washington State in the United States of America (USA) to ensure equity among the learning population during school closures. During the COVID-19 outbreak which necessitated school closures, provision of online learning services in the state was predicated on the schools’ ability to assure learners of equitable access. Hakeem (2020) quizzed: “Is the inequality or disparity in access so stark and difficult to address that online learning services are not offered at all by some schools?” (para. 1).

Further, Hakeem (2020) sought to know the implication of the online learning services policy for disruptions in education during the pandemic period; conditions under which schools could be certain that equitable access has been assured; and whether equity implied ensuring equal opportunity and access to online or distance learning were available to all. He believed equity could be assured through the printing of assignments for learners with no access to computers or Internet or both. Moreover, equity could be assured through the provision or lending of computers to learners from deprived or low-income families; and through subsidies on telecommunication and mobile data packages.

Hakeem (2020) believed the identification of practical and helpful solutions could ensure effective delivery of educational services at all levels; while mitigating the adverse effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on the entire economy. Nisha (2020) held that effective and implementable online learning arrangement would ensure efficiency and collaboration between learners and instructors; and enhance sincerity among key stakeholders in education.

One of the greatest challenges posed by epidemics and pandemics is the inability to collect reliable data on education during the period. The GEM Report (2020) revealed questions related to the potential effect of the Coronavirus pandemic on education may arise in the short-, medium- and long-term. However, in the interim, the focus may be on understanding how key stakeholders such as instructors, students and parents could be supported to mitigate the overall effect of school closures on everyone; with emphasis on the most vulnerable.

In the medium- and long-term, it would be essential to assess the effect of school closures on professional career and beyond; and to assess the progress of various economies towards the United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) targets for 2030. Effective analyses of the foregoing trend in the next two to three years to determine functionality of the current implementable measures; and which ones need to be reviewed, would be contingent on the availability of reliable data.

Reliable data would facilitate development of framework that would provide the needed support and assistance to deserving communities and countries over the next decade. However, the GEM Report (2020) noted, the impact of extended school closures on children vary; the impact may be different for children in the middle of their academic education; those in their final year; and children who are about to start schooling. Tarasawa (2020) averred, the availability of reliable, accurate and valid data could be very useful during periods of uncertainty and disruptions; the data would be essential when policymakers are obliged to make definitive decisions on resource allocations; and decisions on how best to provide academic assistance to learners.

Institutions of learning at various levels serve as hubs of human interaction and social activity. Physical school sites afford learners the opportunity to engage in face-to-face interactions; improve on social relations and contacts; and to enhance their academic and personal development. Forceful school closures emanating from predatory pandemics such as COVID-19 compel learners to indulge in social and physical isolation (UNESCO, 2020b). This affects the psyche and social development of children. However, the inevitability of the occurrence of epidemics and pandemics consistently affirms the need for social adjustments to the dynamics introduced to the earth; and countries and territories therein by natural disasters. Some of these dynamics include strong considerations for the implementation of distance and online learning in academic institutions in each country and territory across the globe.

Shaeffer (2020) acknowledged significance of the multiplicity of measures adapted by various countries and territories to ensure containment; and to minimise eventual effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on their respective economies. However, Shaeffer (2020) bemoaned the muteness of most of these interventions on early childhood education and care. In other words, most government interventions did not spell out clearly arrangements made for early childhood education and care during early stages of the pandemic.

UNESCO (2020c) identified gaps in child care as one of the challenges associated with school closures globally. This increases absenteeism as some parents are compelled to stay at home to cater for their under-aged children. The foregoing holds when there are no alternative arrangements for care givers; and this affects wage earnings, productivity and output. This notwithstanding, some advanced, emerging and developing countries took the necessary steps to arrange for early childhood education and care for the wards and children of security personnel and medical staff to avoid disruptions in their valuable contributions to the collective fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.

Most countries and territories across the globe have internal and external or regional examinations such as the General Certificate of Education, Ordinary and Advanced levels (GCE ‘O’ and ‘A’ levels), Junior High School (JHS), Senior High School (SHS), SAT, GMAT, TOEFL, ACCA, ACA, and others, that help in determining the admission and advancement of learners to new academic institutions and levels. However, successful organisation of the foregoing examinations become a challenge during epidemic and pandemic outbreaks when school closures, physical and social distancing are identified as some of the effective ways of curbing further spread.

Generally, the examination bodies are compelled to postpone or cancel most of these examinations during school closures arising from epidemic and pandemic outbreaks. UNESCO (2020b&c) noted, the issue of fairness comes to play when examinations that were hitherto taken onsite are organised online for students; and disengagements among students may increase when they study without examinations or assessments over a given period. The GEM Report (2020) doubted the ability to measure effectively the impact of cancellation of examinations and temporary disruptions to academic programmes on sustainable education in communities and countries across the world, owing to the challenges associated with gathering reliable data from respondents.

Extended School Closures and Retention Rate

Protracted school closures may affect retention rate among school children. It may encourage high drop-out rates in communities and countries where the school children or students work to earn a living; or to support their respective families or both (UNESCO, 2020a&c). In some cases, the school-going child may not be under the economic obligation of his or her parents or caregivers to work to earn a living, but may do so voluntarily; and end up being enticed by regular monetary rewards during the period.

By comparing the monetary rewards from working with the non-monetary gains from active schooling, some learners may opt for the immediate economic or financial benefits from working; in place of an education which could define their future career; and assure them of decent earnings and living standards in the medium- and long-term.

Atchoarena (2020) shared, the UNESCO Global Network of Learning Cities (GNLC) comprises one hundred and seventy-three (173) member countries; and each of these member countries was saddled with greater challenges following the outbreak of the Coronavirus pandemic. The challenges notwithstanding, the UNESCO-GNLC member countries demonstrated strong commitment to lifelong learning; and exhibited innovativeness in their respective and collective fight against the pandemic.

Tarasawa (2020) posited, a strong collaboration among school authorities, researchers and policymakers was fundamental to understanding and identifying potential policies and best practices that could lead various countries and territories; and their respective schools to recovery. Collaborative research with schools would help to unravel effectively, the outcome of school closures on learning capabilities and progress of the learners’ population; determine the generalisability or otherwise of the research outcomes; and to define possible schools’ recovery policies that could be extended and adapted nationally for implementation in a timely manner.

More than half of the global estimated population of 7.8 billion people reside in cities and the adjoining urban areas. The COVID-19 pandemic outbreak compelled more than 90%, that is, about 1.63 billion of the world’s total learners’ population to remain in their respective homes. To ensure academic programmes continued uninterrupted, ministries of education in various countries were burdened with the task of making alternative arrangements; and providing alternative learning solutions for learners and instructors. Atchoarena (2020) noted, the effect of these novel arrangements was mostly felt at the local level. This is attributed largely to the adaption and implementation of decentralised systems in many jurisdictions.

Since more than half of the global population is found in urban areas, Atchoarena (2020) believed cities have a significant role to play in the formulation of policies and measures aimed at ensuring learners consistently have access to education through online or distance learning; and to ensure this opportunity is extended to vulnerable learners in deprived homes and communities. This responsibility notwithstanding, the author identified cities as critical actors in the global fight against COVID-19: “Everywhere in the world, cities are on the frontline of the fight against COVID-19, from managing overstretched health and social services to coping with the closure of learning institutions” (para. 2). It is the responsibility of cities to transform various schools; and to avoid interruptions in planned learning programmes and activities. Beyond the foregoing, cities are tasked to ensure total transformation of lifelong learning systems into a massive preventive resource.

Most students at the secondary level are at their adolescent stage. In some societies, female adolescents are “due” for marriage, especially customary marriage. Thus, prolonged school closures without definitive re-opening dates create the opportunity for some parents to arrange early marriages for their female adolescents. During school closures, teenage pregnancies may be rife; while sexual exploitation and forceful recruitment of children and adolescents into militias may be rampant (UNESCO, 2020a).

The foregoing corroborates Giannini and Albrectsen (2020) who found school closures in over one hundred and eighty-five (185) countries as a potential for entrenchment of the existing gender gaps in education. The authors noted school closures have the potential for high school drop-out rates, especially among adolescent girls. School closures have the potential for increased risk of sexual exploitation, early and forced marriages, early and teenage pregnancy, among other potential setbacks to planned and systematic education of girl adolescents across the globe. The authors noted, refugee camps affected by COVID-19 would have adverse impact on the education of girls.

Giannini and Albrectsen (2020) indicated, refugee girls enrolled at the secondary level are only half as likely to re-enrol as their male counterparts. Globally, our understanding and appreciation for the economic effect of the Coronavirus pandemic is progressive. This notwithstanding, the effects, especially for girls and women are envisaged to be devastating and widespread. The authors revealed, in the Global South, social protection measures put in place by respective governments are limited in scope. Therefore, economic hardships created by the Coronavirus pandemic are likely to have spill-over effects; the opportunity costs of providing education for girls would be considered strongly by families.

Schools across the globe were expected to re-open when the number of reported cases and deaths reduce; and countries improved considerably on the containment measures. Although many girls would continue with their education in the post-COVID-19 period, Giannini and Albrectsen (2020) feared others would not be able to return. As a result, responses to educational desiderata must prioritise the urgent academic needs of girls, so the significant gains made in promoting girl-child education over the last twenty (20) years would not be lost; or would not remain futile.

Pandemic Effects on Instructors and Families

Aulo (2020) noted, the implementation of non-pharmaceutical interventions such as lock downs and school closures compels families to remain indoors; and this brings in its wake some challenges to the affected families. Aulo (2020) believed family issues emanating from the non-pharmaceutical interventions enumerated in the preceding section could be addressed through the provision of nutritious meals to minimise the high incidence of malnutrition; and to minimise the effect of increasing prices of food items on families’ total demand for food and other goods.

The foregoing corroborates UNESCO (2020a&c) who found a positive relationship between compromise on nutrition and school closures; and further found, the tendency for many school children to eat healthy and nutritious foods during school closures was low; most children relied on free and discounted meals provided by their respective schools; this service may be compromised during school closures thereby affecting their nutrition levels; and also affect their ability to eat three square meals on a daily basis.

Further, the necessary steps must be taken to ensure rigorous development of electronic learning (e-learning) at all levels of the education strata; while medical services delivery including pre-natal, post-natal and self-test kits for COVID-19 are brought to the door steps of affected families. Family members who test positive should be rushed to the nearest medical facility for treatment.

However, UNESCO (2020b&c) noted increasing demand for new online learning tools and pressures on existing facilities during school closures. It is believed both human and technical challenges are encountered when the need for transition from classroom learning to online learning becomes necessary and at full scale. Setting up computers, Internet and other equipment to facilitate distance learning from homes becomes a challenge to many families during school closures and lockdowns.

UNESCO (2020b) found a link among teachers, stress and confusion during school closures, especially when the closures are unanticipated and without definite periods. Unspecified school closure periods affect teachers’ ability to remain organised; know their obligations; and to maintain contacts with students to support learning. School closures affect sustainability of employment of many instructors in private institutions while transition to online learning platforms tends to be challenging.

Mutea (2020) asserted, steps taken to train caregivers and parents during the lock down period were in the right direction. This allowed caregivers and parents to sharpen their skills to effectively engage learners during school closures. Mutea (2020) recounted the trauma experienced by Kenyan parents from the government’s decision to close schools indefinitely culminating in long stay of their wards and children at home.

Mutea’s (2020) submission was supported by UNESCO (2020c) who noted parents, especially those with limited education and resources struggle to cope with the task of facilitating learning of their children and wards at home during school closures. Chang and Yano (2020) averred, the protracted school closures called for mental health and protection of well-being of learners; and provision of the requisite support to instructors, parents and caregivers. This would ease the negative socio-economic effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on the foregoing stakeholders or victims.

Institutional Response to Pandemic Challenges

Atchoarena (2020) submitted, institutions characterised by lifelong learning are often called upon to promote habits, behaviours and gestures that could contribute meaningfully to the prevention of contamination. The COVID-19 pandemic has necessitated prioritisation of health education for school children, students, citizens; and residents of various global countries and territories. Generally, the authority, funding, experience; expertise of key stakeholders from the private and public sectors; and civil society organisations are pooled together in cities to provide the requisite assistance at the local level.

The above-named stakeholders complement, implement and support governments’ measures aimed at responding to and preventing further spread of the pandemic; while incorporating lifelong learning as strategic goal and means. Assisting in the establishment of online and distance learning platforms was not without challenges. For instance, stakeholders were confronted with the following: difficulties in assisting instructors to ensure effective implementation of the online learning devices; challenges to ensuring Internet connectivity for those with no access at home; and problem of monitoring and assessing periodic and overall learning outcomes, among others.

Diop and Jain (2020) assessed the impact of COVID-19 on the Indian educational system; and described the pandemic as a global enemy that is mighty and invisible. The authors noted, the advent of COVID-19 brought socio-economic activities in prosperous western countries and the Indian economy to an excruciating halt. Diop and Jain (2020) were concerned about the preparedness of the Indian society for the discipline and empathy required to ensure effective implementation of social and physical distancing rules and orders.

They asserted, an effective implementation of social distancing rules did not only depend on an individual but also on all other people around him or her; and that, the discipline of others helps to minimise further spread of the pandemic. The slightest error committed by one person during the pandemic period could prove fatal for an avalanche of persons. Diop and Jain (2020) argued, COVID-19 brought in its wake a crisis that compelled an individual’s welfare to be dependent on his or her neighbour next door. However, this dependence would not end with the passage of COVID-19; similar epidemics and pandemics in the near and distant future would warrant such interdependence among individuals and neighbours.

A study conducted by Brainwiz (as cited in Diop and Jain, 2020) revealed the abrogation of Article 370 led to some disruptions in academic programmes and activities in schools across India. The research revealed loss of more than sixty (60) working days in schools across Kashmir and Jammu; while one hundred and twenty (120) productive days were lost in states such as West Bengal, Punjab, Delhi and Puducherry due to pollution levels and extreme weather conditions. The estimated number of days lost from political rallies and other activities was thirty (30) days.

However, Diop and Jain (2020) maintained, these disruptions were ‘local and limited’ in nature; and under the control of Indian authorities. For instance, the disruptions in Kashmir and Jammu did not affect academic activities in Karnataka. Similarly, students in Nagaland attended classes regularly when schools in Delhi were closed due to severe air pollution. However, what makes COVID-19 very predatory is its failure to create room for any safe havens; all states and localities in India were equally at risk of contracting the COVID-19 virus. This rendered the Indian government’s preparedness and social awareness programme for the citizenry very crucial; communities were educated on the “dos” and “don’ts” that would prevent further spread and assure containment of the COVID-19 virus.

Diop and Jain (2020) sought to determine whether Indians were conditioned, mentally, to face challenges emanating from pandemics such as COVID-19; and whether the prevailing educational system in India has value systems which engender discipline, compassion and empathy for public welfare. The primary response of Diop and Jain (2020) to the foregoing statements was not in the affirmative; the evidence pointed to the contrary. In affirming the possible recurrence of future pandemics; and the need for improved preparedness and responsiveness, Diop and Jain (2020) noted: “COVID-19 will not be the last such aggregate shock. By not focusing on skills aimed at sustainable cohabitation, we have already produced several generations of adults who may not be psychologically equipped to deal with such challenges” (para. 9). The onus, however, lies on society to churn out subsequent generation of community leaders who could think for themselves; and effectively address issues around them. Indeed, COVID-19 had set the pace for such generational leadership challenges.

Challenges to Education of the Vulnerable During Pandemics

Giannini and Albrectsen (2020) claimed, the magnitude of the Coronavirus pandemic was unprecedented. However, effective lessons from the Ebola outbreak in Africa served as a guide; and provided the requisite roadmap towards containment and recovery from COVID-19. The Ebola pandemic outbreak during 2014 strongly affected African countries such as Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia. More than five million learners were affected by school closures in Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia during the period. The Ebola outbreak did not only result in school closures, but also led to increased poverty levels in the affected countries.

Expectedly, the Ebola outbreaks created socio-economic challenges which led to increased school drop-out rates. Some of these challenges included sharp rise in domestic and caring responsibilities; and the pressing need for some of these learners to engage in income generation activities to support themselves and their immediate families. The foregoing responsibilities limited girls’ ability to learn effectively at home. However, the establishment of girls’ clubs in some villages coupled with sensitisation efforts to promote girl-child education was expected to minimise the adverse effects; and to promote learning among girls to improve on their competitiveness; and enhance their overall academic success rate across the globe.

Tarasawa (2020) catalogued various interventions adapted by governments, school authorities and families in some jurisdictions to counterbalance the disruptions in academic programmes by the COVID-19 pandemic. These included the implementation of online curricula; online academic instructions (interactions between instructors and learners in virtual classroom environments); and availability of resources to monitor progress. In spite of the tremendous efforts to mitigate disruptions, academic projections for the vulnerable remained lower owing to chronology of factors such as death or illness of a loved one, domestic violence, joblessness, trauma, increase in number of families in food insecurity “net,” and homelessness, among others.

Some adolescent girls perceive education as a lifeline; education protects adolescent girls from exploitation and violence; and provides the requisite skills and hope for brighter and prosperous future. Given the magnitude of the COVID-19 pandemic in certain jurisdictions, some schools were closed indefinitely. However, Giannini and Albrectsen (2020) believed significant lessons from the Ebola and other pandemic outbreaks could guide practitioners and policy makers in the implementation of measures to address challenges saddled with adolescent girls in their academic pursuits during the COVID-19 crises; and during future pandemics. The authors argued, various governments could protect the gains thus far made in the education of the girl-child by emphasising inclusive methods of distance learning to assure continuous investment in the education of girls. Inclusive methods relate to governments’ ability and resolve to work in concert with communities, instructors and academic staff. Adolescent girls’ education could be enhanced when communities are sensitised on the socio-economic importance of promoting and encouraging girls to pursue further academic studies through on-site or distance learning or both.

Giannini and Albrectsen (2020) posited, challenges associated with the education of girls could be improved through the adaption of the right distance learning practices. That is, it is imperative for governments and other key stakeholders to consider the adaption and implementation of gender-responsive and low technology approaches in situations where access to digital solutions is uncommon to targeted learners. The identified approaches include allowing learners to take writing and reading materials home; ensuring the most marginalised are reached through the use of television and radio broadcasts; and assuring flexibility in the programme and learning structure, so girls who are tasked with extra house chores and care would not be disadvantaged and discouraged from participating in distance and online learning. In some cases, access to the Internet to facilitate online and distance learning may not be readily available. In such situations, the authors believed adolescent girls must be provided the requisite training in digital usage to increase the knowledge and skill needed to remain safe online.

Social protection and school meals are two of the numerous essential services that elude the most vulnerable, children, youth and girls during school lockdowns. To minimise the devastating impact of school lockdowns on the aforementioned category of learners, Giannini and Albrectsen (2020) called for the arrangement of alternative social services; transformation of schools into access points for psychosocial support and food distribution; and working across various sectors to ensure delivery of support through text messages, telephone interaction; and other media, to affected learners. The authors held that based on the needs and experience of adolescent girls, it is imperative for them to be included in the development of strategies and policies intended for school closures and distance learning. Thus, involving adolescent girls in decisions related to their education is vital to their successful academic development; and assurance of decent standards of living in the near and distant future.

UNESCO (2020a) affirmed high socio-economic costs of school closures for individuals in various communities across the globe. However, school closures have far reaching consequences for the most marginalised and vulnerable girls and boys and their respective families. School closures do not only worsen already exiting gaps in the education system, but also worsen challenges in other aspects of lives of the vulnerable and marginalised. UNESCO (2020a) believed one of the consequences of school closures is the interruption in pre-programmed learning activities in various schools. Academic programmes including learning and recreational activities provide the opportunity for development and growth of learners, especially for under-privileged learners who have limited development and growth opportunities outside the school. Lack of access to learning and recreational activities due to pandemic outbreaks affects the development and growth of under-privileged learners.

Giannini and Albrectsen (2020) averred, more girls would return to school during re-opening if stigmatisation and discriminatory school laws are relaxed. The authors contended, the resolution to relax discriminatory school laws would allow pregnant girls to continue with their education in post-pandemic periods. Identifying challenges – financial and social – associated with girl-child education and taking the necessary proactive and reactive steps to address same are pivotal to increasing their access to formal education; and enhancing their chances of success in life.

Tarasawa (2020) collaborated with Megan Kuhfeld to examine the effect of school closures emanating from the Coronavirus pandemic on the academic achievement of learners from the third through twelve grades. The study involved comparative analysis of typical school year with no disruptions in the academic calendar and two possible outcomes from school closures. One is COVID-19 slowdown which the researchers defined as the possibility of learners maintaining the same level of academic achievement they possessed prior to school closures from 15th March, 2020 till school re-opens. The other is COVID-19 slide where learners exhibit signs of learning loss throughout the extended school closure period, which Tarasawa (2020) described as an academic achievement characteristic of summer learners.

The findings revealed a commonality between the Coronavirus pandemic and summer break; preliminary assessment showed when learners returned to school, the impact of the pandemic on mathematics would be greater than on reading; some learners would maintain less than 50% of their academic capabilities; while others may be almost a full academic year behind their peers. To address the simmering challenges, Tarasawa (2020) called on the education community and policymakers to provide support, especially in the area of mathematics for learners when schools’ academic programmes are disrupted by epidemics, pandemics and other natural disasters.

Minnich (as cited in Tarasawa, 2020) affirmed the need for key stakeholders in education to enhance their efforts aimed at narrowing existing opportunity gaps by mitigating the adverse effect of the Coronavirus pandemic on children; and on segment of the global population that is most vulnerable. Tarasawa (2020) asserted, the classroom would be “a changed landscape” (para. 1) when administrators, students and educators return to schools after the school closures emanating from the Coronavirus pandemic. The author predicted the modified classroom landscape would be characterised by persistent economic challenges for families that are marginalised; there may be higher equity gaps; and substantial learning loss for a significant number of learners may be recorded.

Jenkins and Chanduvi (as cited in UNESCO, 2020b) bemoaned the negative implications of long school breaks for the marginalised. They believed the probability of marginalised learners returning to school after a long break may be low; and that, the need and decision to re-open schools are not exclusive to education ministers and their key stakeholders and policymakers; the COVID-19 pandemic remains a major threat to the general public. Thus, the decision to re-open schools required fundamental assessment of the health implications; and how the attendant risks could be mitigated.

The Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA) (as cited in Tarasawa, 2020) estimated the likely effect of the Coronavirus pandemic on learners’ achievement levels. The study included over five million learners who participated in MAP Growth assessment tests. The participants were drawn from grades three through eight. The research findings revealed school closures could impact severely on academic achievement levels; learners are likely to record significantly lower achievement levels during the period.

Tarasawa (2020) documented the difficulty in adequately measuring the potential impact of school closures over given months on learners’ achievement levels. However, outcomes of empirical research on loss from summer learning and seasonal learning could prove valuable to families, educators and policymakers when developing strategic plans to mitigate the potential adverse effects of extended hold-ups in classroom learning; and the potential effects when learners return to school.

Estimated Cost of School Closures

Psacharopoulos, Patrinos, Collis and Vegas (2020) noted the power of COVID-19 to impel an unprecedented global shutdown; and identified university and mass school closures as two of the most shocking signs. The authors described education as pivotal to human capital investment and development; and argued, continued school closures have development implications for learners; and business implications for instructors and owners of private academic institutions. Further, Psacharopoulos et al. (2020) argued learning would be lost during COVID-19.

However, it was difficult to determine its effect on the duration of school closures; assess the impact on the global learning population; and the impact on the world’s poorest and vulnerable populations. Other challenges included the possibility of recovered patients being re-infected; and longevity of steps towards development, licensing; and distribution of a viable vaccine across the globe. The authors observed the learning to be lost to COVID-19 would vary from one jurisdiction to the other; implying the losses would not be evenly distributed across countries.

The consequences of children losing out on education are far-reaching: future opportunities including economic benefits in the form of compensation packages and additional earnings may be lost. Extant literature (as cited in Psacharopoulos et al.) found a significant relationship between learning loss during the extraordinary systemic crisis of World War II and the negative effect on lives of former students about forty (40) years later.

A survey led by the University College London (UCL) (as cited in The Guardian, 2020) sought to examine the evidence behind the government’s decision to close down schools; and to assess the likely effect of the school closures on the fight against spread of COVID-19 in the United Kingdom. The findings revealed COVID-19 had high transmission rate and low clinical impact on children. The researchers argued, available statistics from influenza outbreaks showed the potential of school closures to influence and curb the spread of COVID-19 was low.

Further, the researchers argued, the decision to shut down schools following the outbreak of the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome pandemic in Singapore, China and Hong Kong could not control the rate of spread and transmission. The researchers acknowledged findings from extant research which affirmed strong effect of school closures on the spread of pandemics when the implied virus has low transmissibility, but the rates of attack in children are high. They noted, the reverse is true in the case of COVID-19. As a result, the government’s decision to resort to school closures as one of the effective methods of containing and preventing further spread of COVID-19 in the United Kingdom was tenuous.

The researchers echoed the need for the costs to be weighed against the benefits in making decisions related to school closures. Some of the costs associated with school closures include challenge to learners’ health and damage to their education; the need for essential workers to take days off to care for their dependents; and drain on family finances, among other pertinent social, psychological and economic costs. The category that was most at risk remained vulnerable learners. Unfortunately, the research findings failed to elucidate the potential children-to-adults’ transmission of COVID-19. That is, the tendency for children (learners) to transmit the virus to adults including instructors, caregivers, parents and older siblings, among others, which accentuated and legitimised school closures by the UK government during the period.

Findings from the UCL-led survey suggested the social and economic costs of COVID-19-induced school closures to learners and their families outweighed the public health benefits; while assumptions underlying the COVID-19 model were premised on unsubstantiated empirical evidence. The research outcomes affirmed the need for schools in the United Kingdom to practically commence preparations and to re-open after the initial wave of COVID-19 cases had passed through (Dingwall as cited in The Guardian, 2020). Although researchers in the University College London-led survey concluded, school closures alone have limited impact on COVID-19 transmission, Prof. Neil Ferguson of Imperial College London (as cited in The Guardian, 2020) noted school closures could ensure significant decline in the transmission rate of COVID-19 when combined with effective social distancing measures.

The foregoing strategy severs contacts among households. A spokesperson for the UK government noted the decision on school closures was taken based on scientific advice from experts on how to limit the spread of the pandemic. The decision to ask learners to stay at home was intended to save lives and protect the National Health Service (NHS); and schools were to re-open when the scientific advice suggested it was safe to continue with face-to-face method of pedagogical and andragogical tuition across the country. Courtney (as cited in The Guardian, 2020) argued, school re-opening should be predicated on adequate safety measures and sound empirical reasoning. To this end, the combination of measures instituted by the UK government should remain in place during the period.

Psacharopoulos et al. concluded, mass school closures across countries during the intense period of COVID-19 could have dire consequences tomorrow. Using annual mean earnings of US$53,490, working life of 45 years and discount rate of 3%, the authors revealed a student could lose about US$1,337 annually on earnings with a present value of US$33,464, representing 63% of annual earnings at current average wage rates. The authors noted, the estimated loss of earnings per student from COVID-19 may appear insignificant. However, the amount becomes quite colossal when multiplied by the total number of students likely to be affected across the country.

The estimated loss to the United States was US$2.5 trillion, representing about 12.7% of GDP. The extrapolated global data estimated a loss of US$10 trillion to the next generation. Psacharopoulos et al. posited, the model adapted and figures churned out of their study were simple; they served as the starting point for further investigations into the effect of COVID-19 on education and future economic prospects of children and young people. Courtney (as cited in The Guardian, 2020) shared, school re-opening should only be considered when it is scientifically proven that school closures could no longer suppress the COVID-19 pandemic.

Author’s Note

The above write-up was extracted from an earlier publication titled: “Impact of the Coronavirus Pandemic on Global Education” by Ashley (2022) in the International Journal of Business and Management. References on request

Chartered Economist/Business Consultant.

 

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