The COVID-19 pandemic hit the education of Caribbean children more than any other students across the globe, according to the World Bank, and their absence from classes as a result could affect how much they earn in the future.
However, according to a senior official of the Washington-based financial institution, the pandemic cannot be blamed totally as there was a learning crisis in the region even before COVID-19 surfaced.
Speaking on Wednesday during a webinar hosted by the World Bank, entitled Learning Losses and Impacts of Covid-19 in Caribbean Education, World Bank Country Director for the Caribbean Lilia Burunciuc noted that the one-and-a-half to two-year absence of face-to-face classes in the Caribbean was among the longest in the world.
And she said studies had shown that students’ future income earnings would be significantly affected if remedial action was not taken.
“We estimate that 170 million students in Latin America and the Caribbean were deprived of in-person education for two out of three school days to date and if urgent remedial actions are not taken, projected annual earnings of the average Caribbean student in school today will decline by approximately 12 per cent over his or her lifetime,” Burunciuc pointed out.
“This is huge, and as we embark on the road to recovery, it is now really important for us to shift from crisis response . . . and to look at new innovative ways to invest in our students and build human capital that could support the conditions for a more inclusive and sustainable recovery.”
Timothy Johnston, the World Bank’s Human Development Programme Leader for the Caribbean and Haiti, said research had shown a learning crisis existed before COVID-19.
He said that prior to the pandemic, children born in the Caribbean were only expected to reach, on average, 55 per cent of their productive capacity by age 18 with full health and education.
Johnston said that while average Caribbean children completed 12.4 years of school by the time they turned 18, using an index called Learning-Adjusted Years of School that only equated to 7.8 years prior to the pandemic.
After the pandemic hit, schools, on average, were partially or fully closed 57 per cent of the time, which translated to about 237 days over a two-year period.
Johnston said the move to online school also resulted in a drop in attendance rates. He said one in four students was not actively engaged in any learning activity during the pandemic.
“The consequence is that there were significant learning losses in the Caribbean as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic…so the simulations and the estimates from our team is that Caribbean countries risk losing up to 1.3 Learning-Adjusted Years of School, on average, following the pandemic,” Johnston noted.
He said in some countries like Antigua and Barbuda, Grenada, Guyana and Jamaica, the learning losses were expected to be even higher because school closures were longer.
He said there was a need “to reach every child and retain them in school, reopen schools and keep them open, launch reenrollment campaigns to bring students back to school, strengthen systems to identify students at risk of dropping out and provide greater assistance to disadvantaged students”.