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The pandemic forced an unimaginable response. The entire nation worked tirelessly to offer a variety of remote learning options. It proved to be more challenging than expected and far from optimal for most students. A new report by UNICEF, UNESCO and The World Bank describes remote learning options as “having varied greatly and in most countries, offered an inadequate substitute for in-person learning.” Here’s what the data show:

  • Recent report paints a bleak picture of educational progress across the globe.
  • Student achievement was stunted by school closures amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Disruptions associated with virtual learning impacted over 600 million students worldwide, according to the report, while nearly 470 million children could not be reached by digital programs at all.
  • In the United States, such learning loss was seen in steep declines in the rates of students performing proficiently in math and English, including in states like Texas, California, Ohio, and North Carolina.
  • Widespread drops in statewide graduation rates were seen in more than 20 states as an indicator that “the coronavirus may have ended nearly two decades of nationwide progress toward getting more students diplomas.”
  • Educators noted that even for the students who did earn a high school diploma in 2021, they worry that they didn’t get the most out of their education because of pandemic-induced shutdowns and challenges, like remote learning.
  • The youngest learners faced a double disadvantage, often left out of remote learning and school reopening plans.

Conclusion

  • The learning loss associated with global school closures appears “nearly insurmountable,” said Robert Jenkins, UNICEF chief of education.
  • Schools were forced to quickly adapt curriculum to an online learning environment, but many times without the proper resources or training for teachers.
  • The transition ended up disproportionately hurting marginalized students who didn’t have consistent or sufficient access to educational necessities like laptops, internet connection or caregiver support. 

This report and many before it have repeatedly concluded that remote learning and testing are possible, but need some work, students experienced learning loss, historicially marginalized students and early grades were impacted more, graduation and enrollment dropped, while absenteeism and student engagement dropped. These are all facts that have been documented and responded to with local and state innovations supported by federal funding. We learned, improved, and shifted funds and efforts during the pandemic to meet the needs of all students. The key question is: Did we do each enough to sustain or justify continued remote learning? If so, it will take intentional efforts to continue the momentum and targeted discussions and research to address specific inadequacies and plans for overcoming them.

We’ll keep a watchful eye on it!

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