A deepening learning crisis

Cause for concern: Most of the nation’s 68 million school students have been away from the classroom since March 2020. — Reuters

Prolonged school closure due to the Covid-19 pandemic has deepened the learning crisis in Indonesia, as learning loss puts students at risk of notable income loss in the future, reveals a World Bank study.

The World Bank study, on overcoming learning losses and improving outcomes from the pandemic, suggests that students could experience between 0.9 and 1.2 years of learning loss during the 1.5-year school closure.

Even before the pandemic, the national education system delivered learning at levels far below what Indonesian children and youth need today, with students expected to attend an average 12.4 years of schooling but learning the equivalent of just 7.8 years.

The nationwide school closure has also negatively impacted student literacy development, leaving more than 80% of 15-year-olds languishing below the minimum reading proficiency level of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), a marked increase from 70% in 2018.

And since human capital and future earnings are correlated, the World Bank estimates that learning loss due to the pandemic could cost each student US$408 (RM1,706) to US$578 (RM2,417) in future annual earnings.

Learning loss, generally understood as the idea that learning decays over time if students don’t engage with it systematically and in person, has become a constant concern, as most of the nation’s 68 million primary and secondary school students have been away from the classroom since March 2020.

Even though regional administrators have been able to use their discretion to gradually reopen schools since July 2020, less than half of all schools nationwide had resumed in-person learning as of Tuesday, according to the Education, Culture, Research and Technology Ministry.

The sluggish vaccine rollout for teachers and students aged 12-17, as well as persisting Covid-19 transmission, had made local leaders wary of sending children back to school, said Jumeri, the education ministry’s early childhood, primary and secondary education director general.

Only 40% of the country’s 5.5 million teachers are fully vaccinated to date, while around 26.5 million students aged 12-17, or a mere 9% of this demographic segment, are fully vaccinated.

While vaccination is not a requirement to reopen a school, schools whose teachers are fully vaccinated are required to offer the option of reopening.

According to the World Bank study, though most students were able to continue with their schooling during the pandemic, the quality of learning was questionable while many students struggled to adapt to remote learning.

Prolonged school closures have also led to unequal learning among students nationwide, as time spent on remote learning varied significantly across regions and socioeconomic groups.

The World Bank said that students from lower income households spent an average 2.2 hours per day on at-home learning, while those from households with higher incomes spent an average 2.7 hours a day.

The figures underscored the gap in access to adequate learning environments and facilities.

Iwan Syahril, the ministry’s director general of teachers and education staff, said the government would continue to push more schools in regions at lower Covid-19 risk levels to resume classroom learning to avoid widening the learning loss projection.

“We’ve also created an emergency curriculum for online learning that is simpler than the previous one as a guideline for teachers,” Iwan said.

“Our research shows that this curriculum has many positive impacts for online learning, and (that it) has helped teachers to (deliver) more meaningful lessons,” he added. — The Jakarta Post/ANN

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