Roughly 70% of 10-year-olds in low and middle-income countries cannot read following school lockdowns, according to the World Bank, while American children of the same age are experiencing similar issues.
A report released by the international financial institution and other entities last month found most 10-year-olds in those nations are “unable to understand a simple written text” — a sharp increase from 57% before COVID led governments around the world to shutter schools.
“Political leaders and society must swiftly move to recover this generation’s future by ensuring learning recovery strategies and investments,” World Bank Global Director for Education Jaime Saavedra remarked. “We owe it not only to the children and youth of this generation, but to ourselves — in their minds rests our future.”
Increased “learning poverty” was most severe in Latin America and the Caribbean, where the number of children at the end of their primary school careers who could not work through a simple text surged from 50% to 80%. Children in South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa now have 78% and 89% learning poverty rates, respectively.
Shocks to household income were among the causes of the dismal learning outcomes, yet school lockdowns played a significant role. Though learning poverty is highest among African children, lockdowns in the region “typically lasted only a few months,” according to the World Bank — leading to more minor disruptions compared to other parts of the world.
“Prolonged school closures and unequal mitigation strategies have worsened learning inequality among children,” the report said. “Evidence is mounting that children from lower socioeconomic backgrounds and other disadvantaged groups are suffering larger learning losses. Children with the most fragile grasp of foundational literacy before the closures are most likely to have suffered larger learning losses.”
Overall, the generation of students examined by the World Bank could lose $21 trillion in potential lifetime earnings — an upward revision from the $17 trillion estimated last year.
In the United States, research likewise confirms that illiteracy rates are rising due to COVID lockdowns. Children between kindergarten and second-grade scoring “below benchmark” for literacy surged from 21% in 2019 to nearly 35% in 2021, according to a University of Virginia study.
Meanwhile, American public schools most reliant upon virtual instruction and mask-wearing experienced the most severe declines in enrollment over the past two years, while “districts that returned to in-person more quickly” are the same districts seeing an enrollment recovery, according to the American Enterprise Institute and the College Crisis Initiative at Davidson College.
American Federation for Children National Director of Research Corey DeAngelis told The Daily Wire that multiple studies have confirmed how “public school districts with stronger teachers unions were less likely to reopen in person.” One peer-reviewed study from DeAngelis and Columbia Business School research scholar Christos Makridis examined 835 school districts, finding that “school closures are uncorrelated with the actual incidence of the virus, but are rather strongly associated with unionization.”
“These academic studies weren’t necessary, however, because families saw it all unfold right before their own eyes,” DeAngelis remarked to The Daily Wire. “Teachers unions fought reopening schools every step of the way and even lobbied the CDC on reopening guidance. Meanwhile private schools, daycares, grocery stores, and other private businesses were able to figure out reopening in person from the get-go.”
The consequences of learning loss could be dire for the students impacted by lockdowns. Economists from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School forecasted that American economic productivity would be reduced by 3.6% over the next three decades due to school closures. Since labor productivity is “an integral component of the production of goods, services, and wealth in an economy,” students affected by “reduced education and lower productivity” will be a “drag on the future GDP of the United States for decades in the future.”