Learning Loss and Student Dropouts during the COVID-19 Pandemic: A Review of the Evidence Two Years after Schools Shut Down

Following the outbreak and spread of COVID-19 in 2020, schools around the world closed for significant periods of time. Many scholars provided projections of the likely impacts on educational outcomes, with potentially dire impacts on learning loss and—especially in low-income contexts–dropout rates. Now, two years after schools began shutting down, we identify 40 empirical studies directly estimating student learning loss (29 studies) or dropout rates (15 studies) for students in pre-primary, primary, or secondary school in countries at any income level. Most estimates of average learning loss are negative, although–especially in low- and middle-income countries–this is not always the case, and average losses are not as significant as some models predicted. Furthermore, learning loss was consistently much higher among students with lower socioeconomic status in high-, middle-, and low-income countries, even in contexts with little or no average learning loss. In other words, the pandemic consistently boosted learning inequality. Dropout rates ranged dramatically, from under 1 percent to more than 35 percent, with much higher rates for older students, suggesting that pandemic school closures–together with other pandemic-related shocks–may have curtailed many adolescents’ schooling careers. In some countries (e.g., Kenya and Nigeria), girls are at higher risk of dropping out. The vast majority of studies report results for students of primary school age (83 percent of studies), with fewer reporting results for students of secondary school age (45 percent) and even fewer studies (8 percent) for younger students.

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