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—warns about severe learning losses, increase in drop-out rates
A new World Bank Report has flagged Guyana for having one of the lowest levels of educational engagement in the region during the pandemic.
Titled “An Uneven Recovery: the Impact of COVID-19 on Latin America and the Caribbean”, the Bank cited Guatemala, Guyana, and Belize, with only two-thirds of school-age children engaged in some form of education. Many countries are highly reliant on remote learning options to keep children engaged, such as Chile, Peru, Panama, and Ecuador, the Bank also said.
According to the report most children are engaged in some form of educational activity in the region, although engagement levels (and quality) vary considerably across countries, ranging from 64 percent in Guatemala to 97 percent in Chile. In most countries, engagement rates (including in-person attendance and remote learning) are below pre-pandemic attendance levels. Regionwide, engagement in any education activities is below the pre-pandemic attendance rate.
This suggests severe learning losses and an increase in drop-out rates, with grave implications for the accumulation of human capital. According to the Bank more than one year into the pandemic, only 23 percent of students in the region were attending school in person. Vaccine deployment and government policies differed greatly across the region, explaining these differences. Educational engagement in Ecuador, Peru, Paraguay, and Chile has been mainly virtual, as schools remained closed for the most part. On the contrary, in-person attendance was more common in the Caribbean and Central America. Children in wealthier households, measured by the number of assets, are more likely to be engaged in schooling, but their attendance is also mostly virtual. Lower engagement in learning activities and low face-to-face attendance pose significant risks for children’s learning outcomes and human capital accumulation. Recent estimates reveal that students in the region lost between 12 and 18 months of schooling. Those from low socio-economic levels were particularly affected, which suggests long-lasting negative effects on social mobility and inequality.
In Guyana only in September this year face-to-face learning resumed in public schools. Prior to this, students struggled to access virtual learning as teachers complained about lack of internet access and compensation from the government. In remote areas of this country, school is almost non-existent. The Irfaan Ali Government has doled out a $ 19,000 per child cash grant instead of giving students tablets or laptop computers to facilitate learning. As a result, Education Minister, Priya Manickchand reported in September that over 1,000 primary school pupils from the public school system have dropped out of school over the past year as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Additionally, she said a significant drop out rate has been recorded at the secondary school level, where several students who registered for the Caribbean Examinations Council (CXC) exams did not turn up to write the exams.
Coreta McDonald, General Secretary of the Guyana Teachers’ Union had said that some of the funds set aside for the school cash grant initiative could have been used to procure laptops and tablets and to improve internet connectivity infrastructure with GTT and Digicel, especially catering to children residing in vulnerable communities.
Back in October the European Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean had said that the COVID-19 pandemic opens an opportunity to rethink and restructure education systems in Latin America and the Caribbean, and tackle the profound “silent crisis” that this sector is going through so as to prevent a generational catastrophe. This was agreed by a panel of specialists participating in the First Regional Seminar on Social Development. The seminar was opened by ECLAC’s Executive Secretary, Alicia Bárcena; Jean Gough, Director of the United Nations Children’s Fund Regional Office for Latin America and the Caribbean (UNICEF/LACRO); Claudia Uribe, Director of the Regional Education Office for Latin America and the Caribbean of the UN Office for Education, Science and Culture (OREALC/UNESCO); Pablo Cevallos Estarellas, Director of the Latin America Office of the International Institute for Educational Planning Buenos Aires (IIEP Buenos Aires); and Jostein Leiro, Norwegian Ambassador to Chile, with moderation by Alberto Arenas de Mesa, Director of ECLAC’s Social Development Division.
“Education has not been at the center of the public policy agenda debate to confront the prolonged COVID-19 crisis and Latin America and the Caribbean’s recovery,” lamented Alicia Bárcena in her opening remarks. This, despite the fact that, as of May this year, 99% of students in the region had experienced a total or partial interruption of face-to-face classes, equivalent to one academic year, due to the control measures related to the health crisis.
“It is urgent that we promote the gradual and safe return to schools in broad coordination with the health sector. Returning to school is of the utmost importance, especially for the most at-risk sectors. Schools play a role of protection and monitoring that reaches far beyond academic purposes; they provide socialization, health and prevention of violence,” emphasized ECLAC’s Executive Secretary.
Bárcena warned that “the lack of continuity of classes or virtual access to those same ongoing classes, on top of the economic crisis affecting household income, threaten to increase the risk of school dropout and child labor, generating setbacks in learning processes, deepening existing gaps and causing what we have called a silent crisis.”
“Today, 20 months after the beginning of the pandemic, the total or partial closure of schools continues to affect two out of three children and adolescents in Latin America and the Caribbean. This means that a total of 86 million students remain out of school,” warned Jean Gough, Regional Director of UNICEF/LACRO. “We are facing the worst education crisis in the history of Latin America and the Caribbean. The cost is overwhelming for children and adolescents and for the future productivity of the countries,” she underlined.