By EARYEL BOWLEG
Tribune Staff Reporter
A WORLD Bank official has said schools should remain open, while unpacking how the Caribbean region suffered the impact of learning loss due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Human Development Programme leader Tim Johnston said while there was a learning crisis prior to the pandemic in the Caribbean there was now a need to recover ground that was lost during the last two years.
Meanwhile, children born in the region could on average expect to reach only about 55 percent of their productivity capacity by age 18, despite enjoying full education and health.
For the countries where there is sufficient data to make accurate measurements, Caribbean children on average complete 12.4 years of school by age 18, but this was only equal to 7.8 years of school prior to the pandemic.
He also noted the impact of COVID on school closures and the learning crisis.
“The Latin America and Caribbean polled had some of the longest school closures in the world as a result of the pandemic and while the length and intensity of those closures varied from country to country quite a bit, on average schools in the Caribbean were partially or fully closed almost 57 percent of the time and if you add that up over two years of the pandemic that’s almost equal to 237 days of school on average,” Mr Johnston said during a virtual briefing yesterday.
He added that the attendance rate, even with virtual and online learning, dropped as compared to before the pandemic.
“If you compare the beginning of the pandemic with just over a year later in May or July of 2021, their team estimated about one in four students were not actively engaged in any learning activities just over a year later despite the availability of online learning.”
He highlighted the significant consequences of the pandemic’s forced school closures.
“So, what was the consequence of all this? There was online learning, there were challenges with it, but also a lot of drop outs and otherwise. A consequence is that there were significant learning losses in the Caribbean as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“So, the stimulation or the estimates from our team is that Caribbean countries risk losing up to 1.3 learning adjusted years of schooling on average following the pandemic, but in some, like Antigua and Barbuda, Grenada, Guyana, and Jamaica, the learning loss is expected to be higher because the school closures were longer.”
He included a “call for action”, adding that the World Bank had developed a framework called ‘RAPID’ to direct the course of action.
It means reach every child and retain them, access learning levels regularly, prioritise teaching the fundamentals, increase catch-up learning, and develop psychosocial health and wellbeing.
“First reopen schools and leave them open,” he stated “Second launch an enrollment programme to bring students back to school. Third, strengthen systems to identify students at risk of dropping out because particularly those students that have fallen behind may become discouraged and finally where it’s appropriate, think about particularly for the disadvantaged students, cash transfers to help students boost attendance.”
Lilia Burunciuc, the Bank’s Caribbean Countries Director, for her part warned of the impact if no action is taken.
She said: “Schools in the Caribbean were closed for an average of one and a half to two years, which is actually amongst the world’s longest and we estimate 170 million students in Latin America and (the) Caribbean were deprived of in-person education for roughly two out of three effective school days to date.
“If urgent remedial action is not taken, projected annual earnings of the average Caribbean student in school today could decline by approximately 12 percent over her or his lifetime,” she said.