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Service Issue 79

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Service magazine addresses key issues related to government leadership and service delivery in South Africa.

S education THE COST OF

S education THE COST OF COVID What happens when children don’t go to school The pandemic has disrupted schools and universities across the world. UNESCO figures state that the worldwide average time lost due to Covid-19 related school closures has been two thirds of an academic year. By Conrad Hughes This situation has been the most acute in Latin America and the Caribbean, where five months have been lost and three out of five children lost an entire school year. In Africa, there have also been long school closures. In Uganda, for example, schools have been kept closed for almost two years. There were different scenarios at work when schools closed: some went digital, many students didn’t learn because they lacked access to the necessary technology, examinations were run virtually if not cancelled altogether. Learning was lost because, quite simply, home environments are often not designed to support learning the way that schools are. I’ve done research on international education and I also have direct experience, as a head of a school, into understanding how disruptions affect learners. I know how important it is to keep the rhythm of learning apace, and I’m concerned that students have not been able to ensure progress and consolidate their learning due to the gaps that Covid has caused. These gaps will linger. Almost a century ago, the Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget explained what happens when gaps appear in learning: the way we learn is by assimilating new information to old information. When information is lost, or is incorrect, it creates fossilised errors or gaps, and students try to bolt new knowledge on to that. It’s like a house being built without foundations. In addition, school closures have immediate and long-term effects on students, both emotionally and economically. They also have a ripple effect on a country and on income inequality. COSTS OF THIS EDUCATION DEFICIT One of the greatest costs to a person who misses out on an education is economic. It is well established that there is a positive correlation between education and economic growth, not just in terms of degree eligibility for employment but also in terms of the intrinsic worth of cognitive growth as a predictor of social renewal and economic health. In line with this, there will be a material cost caused by several months out of school. The exact economic cost of gaps in education is not easy to calculate, as it is based on projections and conjecture, but forecasts are bleak. A 2020 paper by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) states that: Students in grades one to 12 affected by the closures might expect some 3% lower income over their entire lifetimes. For nations, the lower long-term growth related to such losses might yield an average of 1.5% lower annual GDP for the remainder of the century. Other studies argue that school closures related to Covid-19 are likely to lead to a 0.8% drop in global economic growth. This is because a loss of learning makes future job candidates less competitive, reducing future earnings. PSYCHOLOGICAL EFFECTS But economic fallout is not the only consequence of Covid-19. The psychological effects of school closure are significant. Research from the UK shows that behavioural incidents (for example antisocial conduct, hyperactivity, expressions of negative emotions) spiked after pandemic-related school closures. This behaviour can be explained by the lack of access young people had to age-like peers and the effects of stayat-home claustrophobia. Studies run by universities in the US also showed evidence of psychological effects. There was a palpable worsening of mental health in children due to school lockdowns and closures, due to numerous intertwined factors including social isolation, increase of abuse at home, anxiety and disorientation. Hence, we are reminded that the role of school is not just education in the narrow sense of information transmission and skills development. It holds society together by giving young people a space to socialise, to feel a sense of belonging and to connect with other human beings. INCREASED INEQUALITY One of the greatest costs to a person who misses out on an education is economic. School closures will also increase inequality, within a country and across borders. Not surprisingly, studies show that the 12 | Service magazine

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