The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) warned Monday that extended school closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic have resulted in "nearly insurmountable" learning losses for children worldwide.
"In March, we will mark two years of COVID-19-related disruptions to global education," UNICEF Chief of Education Robert Jenkins wrote in a statement. "Quite simply, we are looking at a nearly insurmountable scale of loss to children's schooling."
While the learning disruptions must end, Jenkins said, merely reopening schools is not enough.
"Students need intensive support to recover lost education," he said. "Schools must also go beyond places of learning to rebuild children's mental and physical health, social development, and nutrition."
Among children and young people, studies show COVID-19 has caused high rates of anxiety and depression, with some finding that girls, adolescents, and rural inhabitants are most likely to experience these problems.
Upward of 370 million children globally went without school meals during school closures, losing what is, for some, the only reliable source of daily nutrition they have.
As part of their efforts to stop the spread of the coronavirus, governments around the world have ordered school shutdowns over the past two years, denying children access to in-person learning.
"In low- and middle-income countries, learning losses to school closures have left up to 70% of 10-year-olds unable to read or understand a simple text, up from 53% pre-pandemic," the agency said.
"In the United States, learning losses have been observed in many states, including Texas, California, Colorado, Tennessee, North Carolina, Ohio, Virginia and Maryland," the U.N. agency continued. "In Texas, for example, two-thirds of children in grade 3 tested below their grade level in math in 2021, compared to half of children in 2019."
A July 2021 analysis by management consulting firm McKinsey & Company suggested that, "unless steps are taken to address unfinished learning, today's students may earn $49,000 to $61,000 less over their lifetime owing to the impact of the pandemic on their schooling. The impact on the US economy could amount to $128 billion to $188 billion every year as this cohort enters the workforce."
According to UNICEF, the negative impact of limited in-person learning transcends socioeconomic status, though children from the poorest countries suffer greater losses.
Across several states in Brazil, about "3 in 4 children in grade 2 are off-track in reading, up from 1 in 2 children pre-pandemic," the agency said. "Across Brazil, 1 in 10 students aged 10-15 reported they are not planning to return to school once their schools reopen."
The South American country is considered an upper-middle-income country by the World Bank.
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