Impact of COVID-19 on education: millions of children left behind
24 February 2022 12:12

Impact of COVID-19 on education: millions of children left behind

NUR-SULTAN. KAZINFORM - Two years into the pandemic, the world is still reeling from the consequences and the education sector has been among the worst hit. Millions of children, parents, and students have been struggling to cope with online learning, among many other issues, but as the infections continue to circulate, there seems no light at the end of the channel. More about what the education sector has been through over two years of the pandemic is in the latest analytical article of Kazinform.

Global reports

Globally, the situation was no different. From high-income countries to low-income countries, each of them felt the hardship of abrupt transition to online learning, but the scale of consequences varies. Schools for more than 168 million children globally have been completely closed for almost an entire year due to COVID-19 lockdowns in 2020.

According to the World Bank, 45 countries in the Europe and Central Asia region closed their schools, affecting 185 million students forcing universities and schools to switch to the remote learning systems immediately.

In her statement, UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore said that the impact of school disruptions has been devastating.

«The cost of closing schools – which at the peak of pandemic lockdowns affected 90 percent of students worldwide and left more than a third of schoolchildren with no access to remote education – has been devastating,» she said. «The number of out-of-school children is set to increase by 24 million, to a level we have not seen in years and have fought so hard to overcome.»

Key challenges

For Kazakhstan, which has been moving between offline and online formats of learning, the pandemic has been a challenge exacerbating the existing problems in the sector.

In Kazakhstan, because of the lockdown, all educational organizations were also closed, with the exception of small and remote schools. The opening of schools depended entirely on the epidemiological situation in the country. In 2020, the new academic year began in a distance format in accordance with the recommendations of the Ministry of Health and the Chief State Sanitary Doctor.

According to Kazakhstan’s Information and Analytical Center National Report, at the beginning of the 2020-2021 school year, 77 percent of school students continued to study in a distance learning mode, and 23 percent of school students switched to a full-time and/or combined mode of learning. The traditional format of education was available for small schools of up to 300 students, special classes up to 5th grade, and international schools up to 7th grade.

Graduating classes in groups of 15 students studied in hybrid mode – 70 percent of classes were in-person, 30 percent – online.

Regarding the speed and effectiveness of the transition to a distance learning format, the center cited international experts who positioned Kazakhstan in the category of countries that have learning content and resources, but not actively using them in the daily learning process.

«This means that the country initially had the potential to implement distance learning. However, Kazakhstan, along with Russia and some countries of the world, had to urgently develop additional online learning content, implement online tools, and train teachers and students to interact in a distance format,» said the center’s experts.

Human stories

Over the past two years, parents, kids, and students were struggling to adjust to a new reality. Parents chatting in messengers to help their kids do homework or deal with technical problems, teenagers tired of online communication and having less motivation to learn, and teachers, who felt the pressure of having to be always available.

But for all of them, the entire process was overwhelming.

«The first is that we had to sit a lot when preparing and conducting classes because we had all the materials in paper form and it all had to be put into an electronic version,» said a chemistry professor in Almaty-based Kazakh National Technical University in an interview for this story.

The poor quality of the Internet for students was also a problem that affected not only remote areas but also cities. Low speed of the internet and unequal access of students to computer equipment were the main problems that children and students faced. The gap in access to digital devices as well as quality Internet widened the uneven opportunities for learning.

«Initially, there was no unified platform, we worked on different platforms until the university provided us with Microsoft Teams and other platforms when the university began to create all conditions for high-quality, productive work online,» she said noting that the work has become easier now, though some issues still remain to be addressed.

For teachers, who have kids studying in schools, the pandemic has been double stress.

«It was very stressful because we had no idea of what was happening,» said Caress Schenk, an Associate Professor of Political Science at capital-based Nazarbayev University.

Organizing the process so that the needs of kids and parents are met has been a challenging task to accomplish.

«When you are home with your kids, they need you all the time. If you are also working, you have your job and the kids, and their demands. None of the teachers knew what to do. They were using all the systems that they never used before. And the parents have to learn all these systems at the same time, while we were all trying to survive because we were all inside the house,» she said.

The mental health of adolescents and young adults and their emotional support during the pandemic was under special attention. According to the OECD, mental health significantly worsened during COVID-19 among children aged 15-24.

The closure of educational institutions at all levels affected daily routines and social interactions, social and emotional support from educators, and a sense of belonging to the community, which contributes to the maintenance of good mental health of students.

«I put all of my students to a minimum discussion board. There was no interaction whatsoever. I did my class staff in a way that was super simple,» she said.

«As a parent, I am trying to do my own work at home and also helping our kids do their work. I spent less than half of my usual time at my own job. Teachers were trying to get in contact with us to get the kids online; we were actually teaching classes too,» said Brian Schenk, AP World History Teacher at QSI International School.

Learning losses are another major problem that the education sector has faced. According to UNICEF, disruption to education has left millions of children missed out on the academic learning that they would otherwise have acquired. In low- and middle-income countries, learning losses to school closures have left up to 70 percent of 10-year-olds unable to read or understand a simple text, up from 53 percent pre-pandemic, according to the UNICEF.

«As a teacher, it was challenging because I usually have one or two kids who struggle to keep up the pace but the first whole year, 40 percent of the kids were really struggling to engage and finish tasks,» said Brian Schenk.

Two years into the pandemic, some lessons are learned. For example, according to Caress Schenk, one-to-one meetings between kids and teachers were helpful as well as keeping all materials in one single system.

«For my students, I tried to keep everything on Moodle just because I know that’s what they are familiar with, not because it is an awesome system, but because it was what they had and they used. Keeping it really simple was good,» said Caress Schenk.

Article by Assel Satubaldina