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The Impact of COVID-19 on Education Systems in the Commonwealth

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New education study offers strategies to fill COVID learning gaps

Report urges governments to build resilient education systems to ensure sustained learning for all

A new education study has identified strategies governments can use to address the disruptions and learning gaps created by school closures and other responses to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Produced by the Commonwealth Secretariat and South Africa-based JET Education Services, the report urges governments to build more resilient education systems that can withstand future crises and ensure continuity of educational provision and access to education services, especially for marginalised populations.

The publication, The Impact of COVID-19 on Education Systems in the Commonwealth report (PDF), which is a collation of eleven research papers, drew on the experience and expertise of several researchers and established experts to provide insight into early interventions and mitigation strategies.

It comprehensively examines the short- and long-term impacts of the pandemic and identifies priority issues for governments and policymakers to focus on in order to address the possible negative impact on students, particularly those in low-income countries, rural and disadvantaged backgrounds.

Inequalities intensified during lockdown

Using research from a selection of Commonwealth countries, one key finding that was repeatedly highlighted in the report is that of the delivery of education and access to quality education. The report found that these and other existing educational inequalities were further exacerbated by national lockdowns finding communities that were already disadvantaged and excluded from adequate resources and support before the pandemic in a far much worse situation, leading to the reduction of learning opportunities and school performance.

Data also suggests that being out of school was likely to mean a cessation of learning for girls, who become further engaged in domestic responsibilities, placing them at risk of academic failure and reinforcing community beliefs that educating boys is more important than girls.

And as educational institutions resorted to emergency remote teaching to ensure continuity in the teaching and learning process, this further led to exclusions for marginalised populations who could not afford technology and those living in remote areas where internet connectivity is still a problem.

Urgent action needed to support recovery and transform education post-COVID

To mitigate the challenges brought about by the pandemic, the report suggests, among others:

  • the need to rethink the curriculum or design an alternative model that can be activated when remote teaching is needed
  • solutions such as developing and distributing structured school workbooks
  • adjusting the school calendar to maximise teaching time following lockdown
  • re-enrolment of marginalised learners as being of great importance, especially for girls who are at the highest risk of dropping out
  • provision of supportive environments to enable children to focus on learning, highlighting that parents and teachers have a critical role to play in this, especially those in underserved areas
  • further investment is warranted in technologies capable of delivering education remotely

International Day of Education

The release of the publication coincides with the International Day of Education which will be observed on 24th January 2022 under the theme, Changing Course, Transforming Education, putting the spotlight under the gaping inequalities that the pandemic has placed before us and how to build a stronger and sustainable education system to safeguard the futures for this generation and those to come.

Dr Amina Osman, Education Adviser at the Commonwealth Secretariat and one of the authors of the report, said:

“The COVID-19 pandemic has brought education systems across the world, especially in low-income countries, to a standstill. Millions of students across the world, particularly those from poorer and marginalised backgrounds, are at risk of even further educational exclusion unless urgent action is taken to curb the impact of COVID-19. So, as we mark the International Day of Education, it is clear now more than ever that urgent action needs to be taken by governments and policymakers to respond to the current crisis and support its recovery by building more equitable and resilient education systems to ensure sustained learning for all continues, whether online, in person or hybrid.”

She added, “I hope the recommendations contained within this report will serve as a benchmark to shape future policies to allow students to achieve their full potential. To this end, The Secretariat will continue to work with member countries, stakeholders, and partners, as part of its commitment to advancing Sustainable Development Goal 4 and strengthening education systems and policies across the Commonwealth.”

The paper was produced in partnership with JET Education Services, an education development body based in South Africa, and is the second in a series looking at the impact of the pandemic on education services.

The results of this research paper will feed into individual Commonwealth countries’ decision-making processes.

The Impact of COVID-19 on Education Systems in the Commonwealth report (PDF)