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Learning Loss: Peak Pandemic is Over, But the Damage to Childhood Education Is Done.

Looking to Sweden, We Find That Closing Schools May Have Been a Big Misstep.

Photo for: Learning Loss: Peak Pandemic is Over, But the Damage to Childhood Education Is Done.

The full effects of shutting the country down for two years likely won’t be fully realized for generations. But one thing is clear right now —a percentage of young children suffered severe learning delays because of pandemic policies like remote learning and mandatory masking.

Here are some estimates of the damage caused…

According to a report published by the World Bank, UNESCO, and UNICEF, “this generation of students now risks losing $17 trillion in lifetime earnings in present value, or about 14 percent of today’s global GDP, as a result of COVID-19 pandemic-related school closures.”

So we’ve doomed a generation’s potential earnings. Great —what else?

The State of the Global Education Crisis: A Path to Recovery report shows that “in low- and middle-income countries, the share of children living in Learning Poverty – already 53 percent before the pandemic – could potentially reach 70 percent given the long school closures and the ineffectiveness of remote learning to ensure full learning continuity during school closures.”

We’ve lost more children to learning poverty. Terrible —what else?

According to a study performed by the UK Government, and reported on by CNBC, childhood social skills are delayed, as well. “[S]ome education providers highlighted the fact that kids lacked confidence in group activities, while toddlers and preschoolers needed help in learning to share and take turns.”

We’ve ruined children’s confidence. Could we have done any worse?

So, many countries will be feeling the effects of COVID, with a few notable exceptions –countries like Sweden, who refused to close down schools during the pandemic.

According to the International Journal of Educational Research, Sweden experienced no perceptible learning loss at all. Here’s the abstract from the study:

In this study, reading assessment data from 97,073 Swedish primary school students (grades 1-3) were analyzed to investigate potential learning loss. Results showed that word decoding and reading comprehension scores were not lower during the pandemic compared to before the pandemic, that students from low socio-economic backgrounds were not especially affected, and that the proportion of students with weak decoding skills did not increase during the pandemic. Study limitations are discussed. We conclude that open schools benefitted Swedish primary school students.

The report continues: “Sweden made the choice to keep pre-schools, primary schools, and lower secondary schools open very early in the pandemic, and even when upper secondary schools and universities closed and went online, schools for the younger students have been kept in-person throughout the whole COVID-19 pandemic. This choice was in stark contrast to most other comparable countries, including the close Nordic neighbors.”

Sweden was, no doubt, following the science (kind of like we tried to do or, if you’re a pessimist, pretended to do in the U.S.). Young children were in the lowest risk group for getting severely sick from COVID-19.

Keeping schools open for early education avoided “lasting damage” to children, writes Alex Gutentag on Tablet. “When Sweden kept schools open for children up to age 16 without masks in the spring of 2020, for example, not a single child died, and teachers were not at elevated risk for severe COVID-19.”

Some Americans already know, but as time goes on, more will realize we made a terrible miscalculation in deprioritizing the health of young children during a pandemic that mainly affected the elderly, immuno-compromised, and people with multiple comorbidities.