As 2020 comes to a close, the COVID-19 pandemic continues to ravage education systems around the world, keeping hundreds of millions of children out of school. While the recent news about successful vaccine trials is promising and signals a light at the end of the tunnel, the harsh reality is that millions of youth who lost access to schooling during the lockdowns may never return. Those who do return will have suffered significant learning losses. The World Bank estimates that learning poverty could increase from 53% to 63% globally, which implies that 72 million additional children could fall into the ranks of the learning poor. That will have repercussions for decades to come. Without effective policy responses when schools reopen, approximately $10 trillion of lifecycle earnings could be lost for this cohort of learners —because of lower levels of learning, lost months due to school closures, or greater potential for dropping out of school.
Given these scenarios, the newly released results from the OECD’s PISA for Development (PISA-D) survey of out-of-school youth are particularly relevant and thought-provoking. The survey, which took place in 2018, measured the knowledge of 14- to 16-year-old out-of-school youth in five countries – Guatemala, Honduras, Panama, Paraguay, and Senegal. This was in addition to an earlier (2017) in-school assessment of 15-year-olds in these countries. The results from the out-of-school survey, which were released on December 1, together with results from the earlier in-school assessment, clearly show the learning crisis that existed in these countries even before COVID. The results are a message to education systems around the world of the cost of failing to educate youth with the basic competencies needed to survive in today’s world and of allowing them to drop out of school early.
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