Two years later: saving a generation

Four out of five sixth graders in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) are projected to fall below the minimum level of reading comprehension, according to a report released today. by the World Bank and UNICEF, in collaboration with UNESCO. Although the region was already in a learning crisis before the pandemic, this represents a substantial aggravation. This alarming new estimate also suggests that after two years of school closures in the region due to COVID-19, learning outcomes could have regressed by more than ten years. Evidence emerging across LAC supports these estimates.

The new report, “Two Years Later: Saving a Generation,” highlights that these learning losses could cost today's students a 12 percent drop in earnings over their lifetime.

Children in Latin America and the Caribbean experienced some of the longest and most consistent COVID-19 school closures in the world. On average, since the beginning of the pandemic, students in the region have lost, partially or completely, two thirds of the days of face-to-face classes, with an estimated loss of 1.5 years of learning.

“Latin America and the Caribbean is facing an unprecedented educational crisis that could compromise the future development of our countries,” said Carlos Felipe Jaramillo, World Bank Vice President for Latin America and the Caribbean. “The fact that a large majority of sixth graders may not be able to understand what they read puts a question mark over the future well-being of millions of children who have not yet developed critical foundational skills, raising the risk of deepening further long-standing inequalities in the region.”

The youngest and most vulnerable children have been disproportionately affected by these learning losses, as the latest evidence from across the region shows, laying the groundwork for further inequality and a generational crisis.

“Latin America and the Caribbean has already lost more than ten years of progress in terms of learning due to the two years of school closures due to COVID-19. And this educational catastrophe continues, day after day ,” said Jean Gough, UNICEF Regional Director for Latin America and the Caribbean . “While most schools in the region have reopened, we see that too many children have not been able to return to school full time, and many of those who have returned are lost. In both cases they are not learning. Closing our eyes to the most severe educational crisis ever faced by the region will harm today's youth and all of us in the long run” .

Also published today, the report “State of Learning Poverty Globally: 2022 Update”, produced by the World Bank, UNESCO, UNICEF, FCDO, USAID and BMGF, shows that, in comparative terms, the crisis education in Latin America and the Caribbean places the region in the second worst place in the world. Only the Sub-Saharan Africa region shows a higher rate of learning poverty, with nine out of ten students unable to read and understand a simple text by the end of primary school.

More worrying still, Latin America and the Caribbean shows the steepest increase in this index since 2019, followed by South Asia. According to the report, this is likely due to the length of school closures in both regions.

Claudia Uribe, director of OREALC/UNESCO Santiago highlighted the result of the III Regional Meeting of Ministers of Education of Latin America and the Caribbean, in which the urgency of prioritizing the recovery and transformation of educational systems was expressed. "Recovery cannot mean returning to the same, it is necessary to prioritize education in the public agenda of our nations, guaranteeing its adequate financing to be able to achieve the proposed objectives."

Given the seriousness of the crisis, the new report, “Two Years Later: Saving a Generation” urges governments to immediately focus their policies on two essential strategies: returning to school and regaining lost learning. Back to school aims to complete the reopening of all schools in a sustainable way, re-enroll all students and prevent dropouts. The learning recovery agenda must prioritize foundational skills in reading and math, assess the level of learning, and implement large-scale learning recovery strategies and programs. It is also necessary to address the psychosocial needs of students and teachers and the digital divides to face these challenges.

The report includes four key actions to help get this generation back on track:

Place educational recovery at the top of the public agenda.

Reintegrate all children who have dropped out of school and ensure they stay in school.

Recover learning and ensure the socio-emotional well-being of boys and girls.

Value, support and train teachers.

The recommendations of the report reflect the "Commitment for the recovery and protection of learning in Latin America and the Caribbean" announced earlier this month jointly with the Inter-American Dialogue, UNESCO and UNICEF, which has the support of the presidents of Argentina , Chile, Ecuador and Honduras.

Source: UN Children's Fund