WASHINGTON - In the midst of the worst shock to education and learning in a century, global learning poverty is at crisis levels. This new report stresses that COVID-19-related school closures and other disruptions have sharply increased learning poverty, a measure of children unable to read and understand a simple passage by age 10.

"The State of Global Learning Poverty: 2022 Update", a new joint publication of the World Bank, UNICEF, FCDO, USAID, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and in partnership with UNESCO, stresses that even before the pandemic, there was already a learning crisis.

New data presented in the report confirms that learning poverty was very high just before the pandemic hit. Since then, COVID-19 has sharply increased learning poverty, with COVID-driven school disruptions exacerbating the severe pre-pandemic learning crisis. The new RAPID framework provides a menu of options for countries to use to recover and accelerate learning.

Executive Summary

• Even before COVID-19, the world was facing a learning crisis, with nearly 6 out of every 10 ten-year-olds in low- and middle-income countries suffering from learning poverty—meaning they were unable to read and understand a simple story.

• Now COVID-19 pandemic school closures and disruptions have deepened the crisis, sharply increasing learning poverty and exacerbating the inequalities in education.

• Without urgent action to reduce learning poverty, we face a learning and human capital catastrophe.

• If children do not acquire the basics of literacy—together with numeracy and other foundational skills—the futures of hundreds of millions of children around the world, and their societies, are at grave risk.

• There is a narrow window to act decisively to recover and accelerate learning.•This will require firm political commitment and implementation of evidence-based approaches for rapid impact.

• The good news is that the core policies that can help recover learning lost to the pandemic will also address the deeper underlying learning crisis that predated COVID-19, accelerating learning and delivering long-term benefits for economies and societies. Global learning poverty is at crisis levels and continues to worsen in the wake of the worst shock to education and learning in a century.

The learning poverty indicator was launched by the World Bank and the UNESCO Institute for Statistics in 2019 to spotlight the global learning crisis. High rates of learning poverty are an early signal that education systems are failing to ensure that children develop critical foundational skills and thus are far from reaching, and in many cases are not on track to reach, the SDG 4 target of universal quality education for all by 2030. This makes it much harder for children to acquire the technical and higher-order skills needed to thrive in increasingly demanding labor markets, and for countries to develop the human capital needed for sustained, inclusive economic growth.

The learning crisis long predated COVID-19. New data presented in this report confirms that learning poverty was very high even before the pandemic hit: in 2019, the average global learning poverty rate in low- and middle-income countries was 57 percent. In other words, nearly 6 out of 10 children were not acquiring even minimal proficiency in literacy by age 10 before the pandemic hit.

And in Sub-Saharan Africa, 86 percent of children already suffered from learning poverty in 2019.Even more concerning, progress against learning poverty had already stalled before COVID-19.The new data shows that between 2015 and 2019, global learning poverty rose further from 53 percent—the baseline estimate when the learning poverty indicator was launched—to 57 percent. This stagnation marks a change from the 2000-2015 period, when global learning poverty had fallen from 61 to 53 percent.1

Since then, the pandemic has led to an unprecedented disruption of schooling and learning around the world. Globally, between February 2020 and February 2022, education systems were fully closed for 8in-person schooling for about 141 days on average.

In South Asia and Latin America and the Caribbean, children lost on average 273 and 225 full days of school, respectively. As a response to the school closures, almost all countries implemented different strategies of remote learning. As countries realised that, due to the lack of connectivity and the existence of a wide digital divide, it was not possible to rely only on the internet to provide learning materials or any type of interaction between students and teachers, they relied on TV and radio, which expanded quickly across the globe. However, these efforts were very heterogenous across regions in terms of strategies, depth of supply, and usage.

Evidence is accumulating that the capacity of these remote learning efforts to substitute for in-person learning is very low. As a result, in many countries the school closures led to large learning losses. This is true even in countries with high internet penetration and higher levels of digital skills among the teaching force.The simulation results based on the latest available data and evidence indicate that the pandemic has likely caused a sharp increase in global learning poverty, to an estimated 70 percent (Figure 1), and exacerbated inequalities in education. To assess the potential impact of the pandemic in education we simulate possible changes in Learning Poverty.

The simulation modelling for this report shows that 7 out of 10 children in low- and middle-income countries could now be suffering from learning poverty. This means that an additional 1 out of every 8 children in low- and middle-income countries is now in learning poverty, and that all of the gains in learning poverty that low- and middle-income countries recorded since 2000 have been lost The increases in learning poverty have likely been largest in South Asia and in Latin America and the Caribbean, due to the very long school closures in those regions.

In both regions, school closures were long and widespread across the territory, and schools were kept shuttered even after economies started to gradually open and even after vaccines started to be available for large segments of the population.

In both regions, lack of connectivity for about half of the population precluded the use of internet for remote learning or to distribute learning material. Use of TV and radio for remote learning expanded quickly in many countries, but that was not enough to provide meaningful learning to most students. Only the richer segments of the population—those with broadband connectivity, access to devices for the use of each family member, a place to study, availability of books and learning material, and a conducive home environment, among other conditions—were able to maintain a reasonable level of education engagement.

On the other hand, in Sub-Saharan Africa and in East Asia and the Pacific, with the exception of a few specific countries, school closures were much shorter.

Comparing across income levels, in middle-income countries the likely increases in learning poverty were generally much larger than in low-income countries. This pattern stems largely from the longer school closures in middle-income countries and their higher levels of in-school learning during normal times. In all these countries, the efforts to expand remote learning were insufficient to compensate for the impacts of school closures.

For the full report, visit: https://thedocs.worldbank.org/en/doc/e52f55322528903b27f1b7e61238e416-0200022022/original/Learning-poverty-report-2022-06-21-final-V7-0-conferenceEdition.pdf