Learning loss and the social-emotional impact of COVID-19

Published in Eastern Visayas Journal on March 9, 2021

It will be a year now since COVID-19 upended life as we know it and drove the global economy almost to a standstill. 166 countries implemented blanket school closures and pivoted to remote learning using various modalities in order to stem infections and protect the vulnerable in society. This required parents and adult caregivers to take active roles at home to guide their children as tutors and teachers in the new normal. By November 2020 however, only 23 countries continue to have blanket school closures in place according to research undertaken by the Economic Research and Regional Cooperation Department of the Asian Development Bank (ADB). In the emerging markets of Asia, only Philippines, Bangladesh, Myanmar, and the Kyrgyz Republic still have schools in all levels closed.

There is no dispute that remote learning pales in comparison to face-to-face learning. What is the educational loss due to school closures? The Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) at Stanford University released a report last October on COVID slide, the erosion of learning due to the global pandemic. CREDO discovered that the educational loss could be measured by lost days of learning. Students in 19 US states lost between 57-183 days of learning in Reading and 136-232 days of learning in Math, the equivalent of more than one school year. It also found that disadvantaged students lost more compared to students from advantaged families. ADB estimated that students lose two academic years of learning for every year of no education.

Idoiaga, Berasategi, Eiguren and Picaza published their research findings last August on the social and emotional implications of the global pandemic on Spanish children. They found that students experienced conflicting feelings of happiness of being able to spend more time with family and siblings and isolation, fear, and anger at not being able to spend time with friends outside. Studies in China and the US showed that children expressed higher levels of anxiety and depression.

What can we do to support our children doing online learning and living through this extraordinary time? Inside SEL Brief author Woolf recommended educator actions that parents can use at home. One is to provide a consistent schedule for children to establish a sense of normalcy and well-being. Students are used to a regular schedule at school; they need to be productive and busy with activities at home. He also recommended for parents and adult caregivers to regularly check in with students to address their needs in real time. Children go through a cycle of emotions very quickly. It is important for them to know that they can talk about what they feel and get help. In some European countries, two or more families can create their own bubbles so that children can play and talk to each other in person. They need the social interaction to learn the social skills developed early in child development.

When all is said and done, we can take comfort in children’s natural resilience. With the rollout of vaccines and the continued practice of physical distancing, frequent hand washing, and the use of face coverings, this pandemic shall pass. The active support of parents at home will help our students adjust to being back in a brick and mortar learning environment easier and faster.

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