COVID-19’s Impact on Education

Author: Human Development Report Office
With more than 1.4 billion children’s schools closed indefinitely, new technology-based measures are being used to continue the learning process. This positive development from the recent technological revolution supports the resilience to shocks in education, a key human development dimension. So, what is the effective out-of-school rate after considering these efforts? Adjusting the percentage of primary, school-age children facing school closures to account for households with access to the Internet–and opportunity to continuing structured learning sheds some light on this question.

The short-term effective out-of-school rate for primary education has jumped substantially for all human development groups

Figure 1: Effective out-of-school rate by Human Development Group 

The result represents a lower bound of the out-of-school rate—or the best performance that the school system can deliver given the structural conditions—because it assumes that every child with internet access can continue the learning process. In other words, it is an optimistic estimate of the social ability to keep children in school. It is also an optimistic estimate of inequalities between country groups because it assumes that it is equally challenging to implement these systems in every context (with high or low income, with or without broadband, with or without proper hardware). The effective out-of-school rate has jumped substantially everywhere (even under optimistic assumptions).  


The effective out-of-school rate for primary education is highest in low human development countries (86 percent, an increase of 59 percentage points), followed by medium human development countries (74 percent, an increase of 67 percentage points, which is the largest reversal) and high human development countries (47 percent, an increase of 41 percentage points; figure 1). Only in very high human development countries do the majority of primary school–age children have the potential to continue structured learning, with an effective out-of-school rate of 20 percent (an increase of 19 percentage points).1Overall, this is the largest reversal of this indicator in history, opening new gaps in human development. Being out of school—even for a limited amount of time—is expected to have long-term impacts on learning, earning potential and well-being. This short-term analysis is based on countries experiencing school closures, which are expected to last only a few months.  


What happens with the global picture for 2020? Assuming that school closures last for only one-fourth of the academic year (a conservative assumption based on the experience of several countries in Europe and North America), the annualized effective out-of-school rate for primary education for 2020 is expected to reach 20 percent. This massive setback brings the out-of-school rate to its 1985 level.  

Inequality in internet access will have a major effect on the long-term out-of-school rate for primary education

Figure 2: Two scenarios on access to internet

Technology’s role can be assessed using two scenarios.  

Without internet access, the effective rate would reach 29 percent, a five-decade reversal. Inequality’s role in new aspects of human development can be assessed in a second scenario. If countries had the internet access rate of the best performers in their human development groups, the out-of-school rate would be 12 percent. Some measures have been rolled out quickly to bridge the divide within countries. For instance, New York City distributed 175,000 laptops, iPads and Chromebooks before remote learning started, and one internet provider has offered households with K–12 and college students free wifi access and broadband for 60 days. While developed countries are likely to start implementing some of these measures, the principles behind them should be the basis of a worldwide effort to close the gaps in access to technology.