22 April, 2021

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Covid Generation & Education: A Blind Spot

By Tehani Pendigrast

Tehani Pendigrast

The last time the world saw so many school closures was during World War II. The long-term impact of Covid and education reveal harsh and sustained inequalities in the labour market and education outcomes for youth under the age of 25. This is likely to affect Sri Lanka’s future as higher income disparities and education inequalities are the key drivers of low social mobility. To avoid a decline in social mobility these inequalities in the education system need to be combatted through new policies. If we do not attend to this, the loss of education this past year will affect us all in the future. 

Countries around the world have chosen to prioritize teachers and educators in national vaccine rollouts. School re-openings have been prioritized globally in order to mitigate negative impacts on children, as well as families that rely on schools as forms of childcare. However, in Colombo, educators are not vaccinated on priority basis, instead, chaotic vaccination centers are created for “all”.

Does Sri Lanka have any practical policies to mitigate the impact on young children who have been out of school for a long period of time? While policies have been put in place to open businesses, bars and restaurants in the name of economic revival, little effort has been put into opening schools in Colombo. This is a critical mistake. The impact of indefinitely closed schools is yet to be understood as the emergency is ongoing. But it is abundantly clear that school closures are impacting middle to lower income communities at a far steeper price than those of the elite. And this will continue to be exacerbated if effort is not put into mitigate.

A Covid generation of winners and losers through disrupted education as public funds are directed towards health and social welfare, and education is at risk of being compromised even further in the future. It is a mistake to not consider the long-term impacts of education through Covid driven losses. These impacts could turn out to be as far reaching as that of social welfare, long term health care, health costs and unemployment crisis.

The Matthew Effect

While our nation ponders about import bans and exchange rates, the disadvantages will accumulate and rise to students that are already left behind and thus, are left behind even further. This widening disparity is known as the Matthew effect. This will not affect all student groups. The pandemic has proven to have winners and losers in all areas of life but for this article, we discuss the winners and losers in education specifically. It may take years to unpack how the pandemic affects student learning, social and emotional development and to identify any lasting effects on low-income communities. However, it is necessary that we start unpacking this now through effective policies.

Globally, “Covid generation” is a new buzz word that refers to students both young children and adolescents under 20 who are affected by this lengthy school closure. UNICEF estimates that around 1.7 billion students globally have been affected by this. As of the end of 2020, students had a drastically varying degree of access to quality education. With years of development work in the field of education, we have lost some pivotal work in line with the UN’s sustainable development goals to ensure “inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all”. The lost learning over this year for this generation will have detrimental effects on the rest of their lives including the remainder of their schooling years and careers. UNESCO published data includes a list of short-term detrimental effects of school closures such as: 

* Interrupted learning where disadvantages are disproportionate for low income- underprivileged learners.

* Nutrition compromised due to school closures.

* Schools were safe spaces that protected the population of children.

* Underprivileged parents disproportionately underprepared for remote learning/teaching.

* Gaps in childcare

* Huge economic costs – With many women disproportionately leaving the workforce.

* Rise in dropout rates

* Social isolation and detrimental mental health effects

Keep in mind that this list is only the Short-term effects of Covid 19 and education. The relationship between inequalities and economic growth has been studied extensively. Keeping ethical considerations out of the equation for a moment, in the short run, this Covid generation will affect mostly households (microeconomics) however, in the long run, these detrimental effects of Covid generation will affect the economy as a whole (macroeconomics). In economic terms, the prices of inputs become “sticky” and less flexible. Meaning, how we manage our inputs (students and workforce) right now is detrimental to long term repercussions. Therefore, it is vital that we mitigate certain policies effectively to curb long term repercussions and implement policies that reduce inequalities among this Covid generation. These policies need to be implemented post school re-opening as well because the Matthew effect has already taken place and there has already been a loss of education and learning. A few long-term effects of the Covid generation are:

* Increased challenge for mental health and wellbeing of students and teachers

* Increased Social inequality

* Increased gender inequality

* Increased crime

* Higher unemployment levels

* Economic shifts and structural change

* Sustainability setbacks

Learning Loss: Hysteresis In Education

In Labour economics, the word hysteresis most often refers to the long-term effect of unemployment on a worker’s ability to find a job. This term could also be referred to in education to the long-term impact of school closures on students’ outcomes. It stems from the different elements, often associated with socio-economic backgrounds that lead to a withdrawal from the schooling system that will instigate long term impacts on students’ learning outcomes. Such elements comprise of the struggle some students face to maintain their learning speed from home due to inadequate resources, the gradual erosion of their basic academic skills with a lack of practice, the difficulty in participating with education activities, and the demotivation and mental degradation as they fall further behind.

Which Groups Will Be Most Affected Then?

Oxford University conducted a study that showed that average learning loss was 55% more for students from less educated homes. The problem is concentrated in homes with less educated parents who have not been capable of continuing learning at home. Recognizing this unfortunate effect of Covid 19 and the challenge to education with its widening inequalities was seen in 2020. However, with the dire urgency to open schools in Colombo, have we considered how to move forward with educators/ teachers and give them the necessary tools to assist this “Covid generation”? Have we detected and implemented any policies that can specifically target this inequality and education disruption that will negatively affect the nation in the long run? We need to urgently discuss students and teacher transitions and arrangements that enable them to move upwards as individuals and as a nation. At the heart of a free, public education system, despite the pertaining inequalities that already exist in terms of available resources, online teaching excludes some demographics from this desired common space. It is understood that online education was the only way out. With financial difficulties, providing all students and teachers with appropriate equipment, training and the internet was not possible. However, how do we move forward from here and what can we do right now? Have we planned policies that will come into place for this generation that has been stripped of valuable education for an entire year? There is an urgency for better planning in education policy or else the negative consequences in the loss of learning will be seen long after this pandemic ends. 

Where Do We Go From Here?

As countries explore ways forward to reopen schools and design new models of education that expand the borders of the physical schools through technology, Sri Lanka must identify international frameworks or frameworks developed by specialists in a local context that consists of a set of general recommendations and guiding questions that can inform the development of mid-term education strategies and, more broadly, help build school systems’ resilience for potential education emergencies. Sri Lanka must prioritize the safe reopening of schools (and vaccination of teachers) as one of national importance. Public policy must be that which aims to protect the entire public, and not be limited to the economic interests of the few. As a country with a free public education system this must be considered at a much higher priority in order to avoid long term detrimental impacts to society.

*Tehani Pendigrast is a recent graduate from University College London, UK with a MA in Education Policy and International Development and a BA in Economics from Mount Holyoke College, USA. Her former work, based in Washington DC, focused on international development in developing countries. Tehani has a passion for Education and social change and recently moved back to Colombo after 10 years and currently works in the higher education landscape.

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Latest comments

  • 8
    1

    What an amazing readtpain.
    .
    Hopefully you get to a position of power that you’re able to do something about it. Because we can all imagine the response if you bring this up with the water buffaloes currently running the relevant departments.

    • 2
      1

      *read

  • 5
    0

    I’ve taken a very quick look at your article, Tehani Pendigrast. I’m a retired teacher who has grandchildren.
    .
    You’re right. It is the poorest kids who will lose the most. That disaster may throw up its other side effects twenty years from now when exploitation of the hapless will be greater than ever before.
    .
    The vaccines have now arrived, but:
    .
    https://edition.cnn.com/2021/03/17/politics/us-astrazeneca-mexico-canada/index.html
    .
    Now let me see what others make of that “story”.

    • 5
      0

      Dear S_M,
      I’d read this impeccably written article and moved on without commenting because it got me thinking about the opportunities for improving our education curriculums and the education system itself that this pandemic driven semi/intermittent break(s) as well as the need to employ virtual/alternate teaching methods during this period have provided!

      Then you’d urged elsewhere in the CT sphere to take a read of this and comment! So I’m gladly back.

      In terms of disparities in administering equitable quality of education to the poor, these disparities existed pre-pandemic and needed to be addressed then and the need will remain with us until we close the gap. Certainly it seems logical to think that the disparities would have been exasperated by the pandemic.

      Considering my nieces/nephews, and children of friends in school in the east, north, and Colombo district, there has been alternate methods employed to keep the education going at some capacity (E.g. written instructions and work assigned through email and whatsapp group).

      I am a strong proponent of overhauling our education system and establishing clear goals taking into consideration what is going to be optimal at the individual level for any student to achieve their best within his/her realm of aptitude.

      • 3
        0

        A one size fits all program is understandable when deciphering aptitude but establishing streamlines earlier on than now is important. Deciphering aptitude should be an active process.

        Just as importantly, quality shouldn’t t be equated to the quantity of information imparted. Information overload that’s actually detrimental in that it promotes memory work rather than permitting analysis and independent thinking.

        From my own struggles coping through education systems, I propose these as key goals fundamental to education;
        1) develop advanced communication skills as the foundation for learning; learning of new disciplines, independent learning, and pursuit of advanced education
        2) incrementally develop the ability to comprehend complex concepts and information; this doesn’t require information overload but the space for digesting concepts, establishing concepts and patterns from a set of information, and developing concepts.
        3) there has to be greater exposure to the practical applicability of the concepts taught; relatability is key
        4) develop research skills early on; analytical thinking and seeds of innovation

        Education shouldn’t be stressful. It should be liberating to one’s own creative potential; it should impart confidence in your inherent interests and abilities; it should nurture you to form your own thoughts and vision.

    • 4
      0

      Dear S_M,

      Part A:

      I’d read this impeccably written article and moved on without commenting because it got me thinking about the opportunities for improving our education curriculums and the education system itself that this pandemic driven semi/intermittent break(s) as well as the need to employ virtual/alternate teaching methods during this period have provided!

      Then you’d urged elsewhere in the CT sphere to take a read of this and comment! So I’m gladly back.

      In terms of disparities in administering equitable quality of education, these disparities existed pre-pandemic and needed to be addressed then and the need will remain with us until we close the gap. Certainly it seems logical to think that the disparities would have been exasperated by the pandemic.

      I am a strong proponent of overhauling our education system and establishing clear goals taking into consideration what’s optimal at the individual level for any student to achieve their best within his/her realm of aptitude. A one size fits all is understandable when deciphering aptitude but establishing streamlines earlier on than now is important.

      Just as importantly, quality should not be equated to the quantity of information that is imparted.

  • 8
    0

    You are absolutely right. The consequence of this pandemic globally will have impact on multiple levels / spectrum. We doctors and people focus mostly on physical and mental health issues, but there are many others issues (long term) such as 1) education 2) social isolation in elderly and children 3) lack of support network in elderly 4) displacement especially in migrant workers 5) unemployment and financial burden 6) increase in domestic violence 7) increase in substance/drug/alcohol abuse 8) excessive electronic/social media/digital use in children and adolescents 8) mental health issues are mostly anxiety/depression related, but there may be other issues like obsessive compulsiveness cleaning / checking behaviors, unresolved guilt/grief issues related to death of family/friends 9) prolonged hospitalization 10) long term known and unknown medical complications These are just a few which we may not be focusing right now but can be of real issues in future.

  • 8
    0

    Tehani, you seem to have stepped out of our so called miracle land and hence have maturity and broader perspective. Whereas we have professors and self claimed genius here in CT who thinks Lankans are unscathed by this pandemic and hence it is a Western bluff/conspiracy. Prof know it all compares this pandemic to annual flu / influenza and road traffic accidents.

    • 3
      0

      chiv,
      .
      On most issues, SJ is on the “same side” as us.
      It is true that he’s a bit of a pundit, but I think that in our fight against the “Double-Paksas” we’ve got to be mindful not to score own goals.
      .
      The situation is in many ways dreadful; But don’t you think that we’ve got a great new contributor in Tehani? Old guys (mostly men!) wanting to run the world is one of our biggest problems. See how well Jacintha Arden, Justin Trudeau (include Macron?) run their countries.
      .
      For amusement I checked on the youngest leaders; this is just one list:
      .
      https://www.nst.com.my/world/world/2020/01/552914/youngest-leaders-world
      .
      A mixed bag! When lazy, we genralise.
      .
      And the old guys who overstay? This is five years old:
      .
      https://www.ft.com/content/7592a7f6-d3e4-11e5-8887-98e7feb46f27
      .
      There’ll be lots more of data on the web:
      .
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_current_longest-ruling_non-royal_national_leaders
      .
      These may confirm the problem, but somebody like Tehani must show how all this applies to our daily lives.
      .
      This comment, begun last night before the power failed, merely fills up space. Some careful examination of what Tehani has written is necessary. I’ve ended up with lists of politicians. She has stayed on topic, avoiding all politics!

  • 4
    5

    The medical and health fraternity does not seem unanimous on the gravity of COVID-19 and methods of control.
    Since June 2020, if not a little earlier, opinion grown stronger that harsh methods like lock-downs inflict far more harm than the disease itself.
    *
    State and media induced panic disallowed sober discussion. Those contesting harsh control measures or questioning the haste of development of vaccines were systematically shut out, even in the social media.
    *
    The impression I gathered from
    (Dr Jha) http://www.buffalo.edu/ubnow/stories/2020/11/jha-lee-lecture.html
    (Prof. Thakur) https://www.internationalaffairs.org.au/australianoutlook/lockdowns-could-kill-more-people-than-covid-19/Covid
    among several others is that COVID-19 will blow over in 12 to 18 months.
    That view is backed by the steady decline in death rate for a vast majority of countries.
    *
    Sweden was subject to constant attack by its neighbours (and even ridicule by some) about its liberal policy. Early comparison of death rates showed Sweden in a bad light, but today Sweden has near zero death rates. A Swedish doctor explained that comparing performance in a prolonged event like COVID-19 is like comparing the performance of marathon runners.

  • 6
    0

    Sinhala Man, I agree with your observation. I will be the first to admit I am no perfect and sure have my own character defects. But the set mentality of Lankans is a reason for our downfall. I hate seeing people discussing who is more worse ?? who killed most ??? who is more corrupt ??? and picking on other countries while being in denial about our own. I do NOT see any benefit fron such discussions or people .

    • 2
      0

      I know, chiv. Just as we are not perfect, so others, like SJ, also are not.
      .
      I know that we irritate one another. However, it is always necessary for us to overcome our personal tastes, and act strategically.
      .
      Please keep commenting. You are one of the most honest in doing so, and you have unmatched knowledge in certain areas.

  • 3
    0

    Having gone through this late, it strikes me that Tehani is now in her homeland
    and can volunteer to make contact with the relevant Minister for her Services, as
    a Consultant – to overcome our future difficulties as envisaged.

  • 1
    0

    Tehani,
    .
    Yours has been a disciplined piece of writing; long may you write in this vein, and may you, as “punchinilame” has hoped, contribute significantly to Education in this country. The paucity of comments, soon to be over, may point to an insufficient number of readers. Please keep going. I will try to post below a few fundamental educational concerns that have struck me.
    .
    About frustrations on the road, I tend to talk too much. Some appear at the end of those on this still live article:
    .
    https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/the-let-us-pray-culture-its-inanities/
    .
    That already sullies your article. Eschew politics!
    .
    Educationists are able to effectively analyse problems such as the “Matthew Effect” but I wonder whether we are really committed on following through on social mobility. We know that equal opportunity is a fundamental right, but we may in practice subconsciously allow the interests of our social group to dominate what gets done.
    .
    The crunch is that it is “subconscious”. Never mind. I think that we could still proceed to cerebrally analyse the dangers of not ensuring social mobility. Not all children will achieve equally; in any event environmental factors, crucially parental effort, will rightly play a role.

  • 0
    0

    PART B
    .
    We cannot ensure anything like equal opportunity in the set-up that we have in this country. Let us at least face up to realities, the way that you have done.
    .
    Parents dote on their children. Many ask me about school admissions. That’s where the problems start! I try to be honest about ugly truths, but am myself unaware of all the dirty tricks that come into play. The one bit of advice that I can give is to be truthful, and hope for the best!
    .
    An obsession right now is mastery of English. We can pass it on to our own children – grandchildren for me. Well, I’ve not been allowed to interfere. My daughter ensured that when she gave up her own bank job, and focussed on raising her two daughters, the moment the first was born. The great struggle has been to keep out of the rat-race, and ensure not just all-round development of the child, but also to ensure a happy childhood.
    .
    Let me submit this imperfect comment. Sometimes the comments box is invitingly open, only for us to be told, on submission, that the deadline is past.

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