Children who have returned to school in Latin America in the wake of closures imposed due to the pandemic have lost between 1 and 1.8 years of education, according to a new report.
The World Bank, along UNICEF, UNESCO and the Latin American Dialogue, have sounded the alarm over the impact of the loss of learning, launching a new initiative to tackle the "unprecedented" crisis.
The educational crisis in the region “is unprecedented” and “if we do not act now” an entire generation “will be less productive in the future and will have fewer opportunities for progress,” said Carlos Felipe Jaramillo, vice-president of the World Bank for Latin America and the Caribbean, during a virtual forum for educational recovery.
“According to our estimations, today’s students could see their lifetime earnings decrease by as much as 12 percent,” he warned.
Latin America and the Caribbean have experienced one of the most prolonged periods of school closures in the world, and in some parts of the region, there are still students who have not yet returned to the classroom.
Before the pandemic, the region already suffered an education crisis, while only a third of students had the minimum competencies required for a normal education by the end of primary school. Moreover, millions more were without schooling.
This worsened with the pandemic, above all among students with difficulties in accessing remote education.
"I came across kids who had already forgotten a multiplication table knowing that they are at an age of 14 to 18," commented Karen Farfan, an Ecuadorean teacher, in a video broadcast during the forum.
“An entire generation has lost a giant quantity of hours of learning,” for which “we are in emergency mode,” affirmed Italo Dutra, UNICEF’s regional education advisor.
To prevent generational catastrophe, the forum called upon governments in the region to urgently address education recovery and to assure that all students return to the classroom.
The presidents of Chile (Gabriel Boric), Honduras (Xiomara Castro), Argentina (Alberto Fernández) and Ecuador (Guillermo Lasso) all said they would support efforts by the global agencies and authorities to improve education for children across the region.
Alberto Fernández emphasised that the richest societies are not those that have oil, gas or gold, but “those that have been able to develop knowledge” for the future.
In a recorded message, Boric advocated for a new form of eductation that shunned standardised testing and the teaching of "knowledge that at the end of the day is of no use to children.”
“What we want today is that we return to coexisting, that we return to meeting, that we take charge of the tremendous educational gap,” he said, speaking up for in-person teaching at institutions.
Honduras' Castro adopted a political tone, considering that “the right to education has been diminished by the application of neoliberal policies.”
For his part, Lasso, the Ecuadorean leader, called on “all actors of civil society and the public sector at the national and international level” to “work together" to improve education.