Insight - Of learning and future earnings


AmBank's Anthony Dass: Alarmingly, these losses are found to be much higher among students whose parents have less education. Children from socio-economically advantaged families have received more parental support for their studies during the school closure period.

SCHOOL closures due to Covid-19 have brought significant disruptions to education. The pandemic accelerated the loss of learning and raised inequalities.

Given the abruptness of school closures nationwide, teachers and administrations were unprepared for this transition. They were forced to build emergency remote learning systems almost immediately.

One of the limitations of emergency remote learning is the lack of personal interaction between teacher and student.

This is despite best efforts to set up a supportive remote learning experience. Alarmingly, these losses are found to be much higher among students whose parents have less education. Children from socio-economically advantaged families have received more parental support for their studies during the school closure period.

And while the pandemic has disrupted learning, a shortfall from the 100% target for students to complete primary and secondary schooling as well as tertiary is evident.

It will inevitably have long lasting negative impact on the children’s right to quality education while it deepens inequalities.

Even prior to this pandemic, the pace of change in the education system has been insufficient, reflected by the high levels of youth unemployment and growing mismatch between market demand and supply.

Besides the unprecedented disruptions to learning, there is strong devastating long-term implications on children’s well-being and learning. With uncertainties still high, it looks like it is inevitable for the negative impact to be lasting on the children’s right to quality education, while it deepens inequalities.

Outside the classroom, learning losses may translate into even greater long-term challenges. It will have a long-term compounding negative effect on many children’s future well-being.

It could translate into less access to higher education, lower labour market participation, and lower future earnings – all these are an impediment to human capital development.Hence, it is important to take note that school completion – inclusive and equitable quality education and lifelong learning opportunities for all – is a key element to achieve sustainable growth and development.

It has long been known that lower test scores are associated with future declines in employment. Lesser years of schooling is associated with an 8% to 9% drop in lifetime earnings.

And there are other challenges that need to be considered from the pandemic.

So, the scope and depth of the challenges and the reality of how far to achieve sustainable growth and development will now show that the “business as usual” approaches will be a challenge.

There is a need to identify and implement effective measures to address the learning crisis and transform the education system to meet the needs of all children, especially the most marginalised.

To raise the quality of education and build a resilient system that can withstand future crises, it will require effective initiatives and strategies that combine both technical and political will to adopt new practices fast. The local capacity for successful adaptation and scale must also be strengthened. There is a need to develop and focus on real-time labs.

They must be participative and based on action research with the aim to generate new evidence and practical guidance for policymakers.This will enable the policymakers to formulate decisions on how to expand, deepen, and sustain the impact of initiatives leading to transformative change in the system. An in-depth understanding of the challenge within the system is vital.

The real-time labs must be based on problem-driven approaches that require a mindset shift to address and identify challenges rather than to focus on a particular solution.

This means for a “government buy-in” for a particular solution.

For instance, in Jordan, the decision to adapt an NGO-developed financial education programme as a mainstream class across all secondary schools was a government recognition of the widespread problem of low financial literacy and its contribution to the high rates of unemployment among the youths.

And to reduce and reverse the long-term negative effects, there is a need to implement learning recovery programmes, protect educational budgets, and prepare for future shocks by “building back better.”

Recovery programmes

Governments must implement “learning recovery programmes” to ensure that students who have fallen behind receive the support that they need to catch up to the expected learning targets.

Research has shown that 12-week programmes of tutoring can help students make the kind of progress that would be expected from three to five months of normal schooling.

In Italy, middle school students who received three hours of online tutoring a week via a computer, tablet, or smartphone saw a 4.7% boost in their performance in mathematics, English, and Italian.

To ensure a resilient recovery, the “education budget must be protected” and schools that need financing the most are supported. To help the most vulnerable students, government should direct much of the resources to support schools delivering remote instruction, particularly if the schools are serving high-poverty and high-minority populations.

To encourage students to remain in schools, incentives such as scholarships may need to be implemented. Learning recovery programmes will not be feasible without substantial financial support.

It is imperative that the country not only recover from the pandemic but also use this experience to become “better prepared for future crises”.

To support this aim, the country must build its capacity to provide blended models of education in the future.

Schools should be better prepared to switch easily between face-to-face and remote learning when needed.

It will protect the education system not only during future pandemics, but also during other shocks that might cause school closures, such as natural disasters or adverse weather events. It will also create opportunities for more individualised approaches to teaching and learning.

Missing link

And there is a missing link in the education sector – the broader delivery systems and what the real economy wants. The process of expanding, adapting, and institutionalising an effective system requires the initiatives to be a “winning coalition” that considers quality, inclusiveness, and equality.

To establish a winning coalition, there is a need to cultivate and sustain leaders and champions across all levels of the system.

This can be done by a “bottom-up” and “top-down” approach to engage key leaders and cultivate champions in the community, district, and national level.

The focus on the winning coalition must be retained even if there are changes to the leadership.

In short, the initiatives and strategies must be clearly defined and not altered as and when there is a change to the leadership.

With this in mind, it will be necessary to develop flexible curricula that can be taught in person or online.

Additionally, teachers need to be better-equipped to manage a wide range of IT devices in the event of future school closures.

Offering short training courses to improve their digital skills will help. Using the post-pandemic period to rebuild education systems and make them resilient is a priority.

At the same time, it is important to build a future education system that can make better use of blended learning models to reach all learners and to provide more individualised approaches to teaching.

It needs to continue the larger reform process to be in line with the global standards.

Learning continuity and operational resilience in higher education through initiatives to expand digitalisation in the education sector is vital.

Blended learning

Efforts must continue to expand the number of schools with “reliable” Internet connectivity and access to digital devices and equipment that are up to date for greater use of the blended learning approach in schools.

Although this is a long-term process, the necessary steps must be taken immediately. To “build back better”, will require bold and radical actions and a vision for the kind of human capital we need to grow and thrive.

It is to ensure that the overall economy remains competitive given the stiff competition coming from our neighbours.

In short, this pandemic has provided the opportunity to make a change that should have been done a long time ago.

It is time to move away from focusing on short-term fixes and assuming if we get the right test, incentives, and put pressure on teachers, then the students will perform.

It is time to realise that one cannot widget the way to powerful learning. Relationships are critical for learning. Students’ interests need to be stimulated and they need to be recognised.

Anthony Dass is group chief economist/head of AmBank Research, and a member of the Economic Action Council Secretariat and adjunct professor at UNE, Australia. The views expressed here are his own

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