In June 2022, the Government of India published its first national assessment of learning since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic (the National Success Survey), showing that the skills of ‘student learning in most states had declined over the past two years. The average learning proficiency rate across all grades and subjects fell from 48% in 2017 to 34% in 2021. This is a pattern that has been seen globally and gives an idea of the effect of closure of schools and the wider impacts of the Covid-19 pandemics have had on the education of children around the world.
There is concern that these impacts threaten to set back children’s potential for years to come. To help children catch up, we need to focus on where each child is now. We must assess their level of learning and then focus classroom instruction on closing the gaps between desired and actual student learning, focusing on core subjects, using approaches that align instruction with learning needs, through a longer systemic approach.
UNICEF co-hosts the Global Education Evidence Advisory Panel (GEEAP) together with the World Bank and the UK government. The GEEAP consists of 13 experts from around the world, three of whom are from India; 2019 Nobel Laureate Prof. Abhijit Banerjee, 2021 Yidan Laureate Dr. Rukmini Banerji and Prof. Karthik Muralidharan contributed to the panels’ understanding of how we strengthen global education systems.
Overall, the panel’s goal is to improve the use of evidence in education policy decisions around the world. The GEEAP recently published a report: Prioritizing learning during COVID-19: The most effective ways to keep children learning during and after the pandemic, which provides recommendations on how to respond to educational needs post-Covid-19 .
In June, GEEAP members met the Indian ministerial delegation at the World Education Forum in London, an annual event where ministers from around the world come together to share their challenges and successes. They discussed how the report’s recommendations could help India’s education system recover from the impact of the pandemic’s disruption to normal school routines, including full and partial school closures for extended periods of time These disruptions have had a knock-on effect on students’ skills.
Highlights of the report’s recommendations include:
- Adjust instruction to support children’s learning needs and focus on important foundational skills. It is critical to assess student learning levels as schools reopen. Targeting instruction tailored to a child’s learning level has proven cost-effective and helped students catch up.
- Governments must ensure that teachers are properly supported to help children learn. Interventions that provide teachers with simple and carefully structured teaching programs have been found to be cost-effective ways of increasing literacy and numeracy.
- Prioritizing keeping schools and preschools fully open. The huge educational, economic, social and mental health costs of school closures and the inadequacy of distance learning strategies as substitutes for face-to-face learning make it clear that school closures should be last resource
- Give priority to teachers for vaccination against Covid-19, use masks when assessed as necessary and improve ventilation. The risk of transmission in schools can be dramatically reduced when a combination of these mitigating actions is taken, but they should not be prerequisites for keeping schools open.
The expert group also calls on governments to support parental involvement and take advantage of existing technology.
In India, a proactive approach to evidence gathering around learning levels has already been taken, meaning that there is knowledge about how best to respond to the impacts of Covid-19 and allows for teachers to focus on adjusting instruction, to ensure that their students are being taught. at the appropriate level, helping them recover from learning loss. This is one of the recommendations of the GEEAP report and we have been discussing it in detail with policy makers, researchers and teachers in Delhi this July.
The GEEAP recommendations already align with some of the goals detailed in India’s National Education Policy (NEP), which was drafted in July 2020. Both demonstrate how we can and should use research and ‘evidence to develop an effective educational policy.
Both the NEP and GEEAP recommendations focus on what is required to transform learning levels in schools, particularly to achieve the literacy and numeracy skills that every student needs to acquire as a foundation for further studies. The World Bank and UNICEF India operations in the country reflect the GEEAP recommendations and have a strong focus on basic learning. The GEEAP points to the importance of adjusting how we teach to make sure we are teaching at the child’s level. This advice was based on evidence from around the world, including India.
There are local examples of how this works, such as the recruitment of women from the community to teach basic literacy and numeracy skills to children who are lagging behind in government schools, highlighting the importance of teaching assistants in improving learning and specific teaching approaches. This program increased the average test scores of all children in the treatment schools.
It is expected that more GEEAP tests will be published in the future. The panel and its co-hosts will continue to work with local policy makers to share their findings and support the updating of evidence in education policy decisions.