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COVID-19 Could Lead to Permanent Loss in Learning and Trillions of Dollars in Lost Earnings

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School closures due to COVID-19 have left most students on the planet out of school – 1.6 billion students at the peak in April 2020.  This global shock to all education systems is being followed by a deep recession.  Without remedial action when students start returning to school, a new World Bank report estimates a loss of $10 trillion dollars in earnings over time for this generation of students, and countries will be driven off-track to achieving their Learning Poverty goals. 

“Not being able to attend school impacts children in many ways: children don’t have an opportunity to learn, they may miss their most nutritious meal of the day, and too many students – especially girls – may lose out on the opportunity to complete their education, which will prevent them from achieving their potential,” stressed Annette Dixon, World Bank Vice President for Human Development. “Without rapid, decisive, and coordinated action, the crisis threatens to pose a huge setback to hard-won gains in human capital, irreversibly damaging the lifelong opportunities of millions of children.”

Before the crisis, students were completing an average of 11.2 years of schooling throughout their school-age lives. However, when adjusted for the quality of learning, that amounted to only 7.9 years of schooling.  According to Simulating COVID-19 impacts on learning and schooling outcomes: A set of global estimates, 5 months of school closures due to COVID-19 will result in an immediate loss of 0.6 years of schooling adjusted for quality, bringing the effective learning that a student can achieve down from 7.9 years to 7.3 years.

Prior to the outbreak of the global coronavirus pandemic, the world was already struggling with a learning crisis, with 53 percent of children in low- and middle-income countries living in Learning Poverty – being unable to read and understand a simple text by age 10.

“The effects being simulated show a potential substantial setback to the goal of halving the number of learning poor by 2030 unless drastic remedial action is taken,” emphasized Jaime Saavedra, World Bank Global Director for Education.  “We were already living a learning crisis before the pandemic. With the spread of the coronavirus, the learning crisis will be even deeper – the baseline from which we need to accelerate and improve learning is now even more challenging.” 

Saavedra added, “Moreover, we were already living in a world where opportunities were highly unequal; now those disparities are more profound, as poorer children would have had fewer opportunities to maintain any engagement with the learning process.”

School closures will impact learning across the system.  In the case of lower secondary students, the share of students that do not attain the minimum competencies can increase from 40% to 50% because of the immediate shocks.

Compounding this, according to the report, as of the latest GDP projections, close to 7 million students from primary and secondary education could drop out of school due to the income shock of the pandemic alone, and this number is likely to be revised further upwards as estimates of the magnitude of this economic crisis are revised.

The report says that the combination of being out of school and the loss of family livelihoods caused by the pandemic may leave girls especially vulnerable, and may exacerbate exclusion and inequality – particularly for persons with disabilities and other marginalized groups.

In the absence of effective compensatory action, school closures lasting 5 months and the unfolding economic shock could result, on average, in a reduction of $872 in yearly earnings for each student from today’s cohort in primary and secondary school.  This is equivalent to approximately $16,000 of lost earnings over a student’s lifetime, at present value.

These learning losses could translate over time into $10 trillion dollars of lost earnings for the global economy because of lower levels of learning, the lost months of schooling during the lockdown, and potential dropping out from school. This is approximately 16% of the total expenditures in educating these students over all their basic education.

Governments are pursuing a variety of approaches to mitigate school closures. The report notes that while some 130 governments are investing heavily in multiplatform remote learning and using this period to plan for when schools reopen, this is an opportunity to build an education system that is more resilient, adaptable to student needs, equitable, and inclusive, with a strong emphasis on the role of technology in teacher’s training at scale and ensuring learning continuity between the school and the home.

We cannot waste this crisis,” stressed Saavedra. “This shock might have lasting negative impacts, but it must be an opportunity to accelerate, not go back to where we were before.  We will go to a new normal with a different understanding of the role of parents, teachers, and technology.  A new normal that should be more effective, more resilient, more equitable, and more inclusive.  We owe it to our children.”

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UN ‘actively assisting’ in response to huge explosions at Beirut port

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The United Nations has said that it is “actively assisting” in the response to the horrific explosions that ripped through the port area of Beirut on Tuesday, reportedly leaving dozens dead and thousands wounded, among them some UN naval peacekeepers.

A statement from a UN spokesperson  said Secretary-General António Guterres  expressed his deepest condolences to the families of the victims, as well as to the people and Government of Lebanon, following the horrific explosions in the capital.

The UN chief wished a speedy recovery to the injured, including several UN personnel working in Lebanon.

News reports suggest that along with dozens of deaths, perhaps several thousand people were injured in the massive blasts, which sent shockwaves across the bustling city of Beirut, bursting out windows and shaking buildings. The cause of the explosions has not yet been confirmed.

“The United Nations remains committed to supporting Lebanon at this difficult time and is actively assisting in the response to this incident,” Mr. Guterres said.

Separately, Tijjani Muhammad-Bande, the President of the UN General Assembly, also extended his deepest condolences to the families who lost loved ones in the explosion in Beirut today and wished a speedy recovery for the injured.

“Mr. Muhammad-Bande would like to reiterate his solidarity with Lebanon during this time,” said the Assembly President’s Spokesperson.

Meanwhile, earlier in the day the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) said that as a result of a huge explosion, a ship from its Maritime Task Force docked in the port was damaged, leaving some UNIFIL naval peacekeepers injured – some of them seriously.

“UNIFIL is transporting the injured peacekeepers to the nearest hospitals for medical treatment. UNIFIL is currently assessing the situation, including the scale of the impact on UNIFIL personnel,” said a statement from the operation, which was set up in 1978 initially to confirm the withdrawal of Israeli forces from southern Lebanon, as well as to ensure the area returned to Beirut’s control.

UNIFIL Head of Mission and Force Commander Major General Del Col said: “We are with the people and the Government of Lebanon during this difficult time and stand ready to help and provide any assistance and support.”

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AfDB presents findings of the Angola Green Mini-Grid Market Assessment

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The African Development Bank hosted a webinar to present the findings and recommendations of the Angola Green Mini-Grid Market Assessment report, implemented through the Sustainable Energy Fund for Africa.

The assessment was conducted with the technical assistance of Carbon Trust, in collaboration with the Government of Angola, and in consultation with key stakeholders such as development partners and private sector representatives. The report assesses key enabling factors required for large scale mini-grid development, as well as the overall potential of the mini-grid market in Angola, in alignment with the country’s energy sector development strategy.

The report estimates that 9.9 million people, representing 32% of Angola’s total population, and 47% of the non-electrified population, could be best served by mini-grid solutions. It also highlighted the regulatory gaps that exist in the mini-grid market, including insufficient incentives for private sector participation. Overall, the assessment recommends that addressing the gaps could unlock an estimated demand for mini-grids of approximately $252.5 million in Angola, based on the average annual electricity expenditure per capita, in rural areas.

The webinar held on 23 July 2020, provided a platform for over 100 participants to discuss opportunities and challenges relating to the development of green mini-grids in Angola, as well as enhanced coordination and partnerships towards the advancement of sustainable expansion of clean energy in the Southern African country.

Among participants were representatives of the government, from the Ministry of Energy and Water, the Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Environment, and the Ministry of Economy and Planning.  Development partners, private sector actors, and national and regional associations in the sector also took part.

In his opening remarks, the African Development Bank Country Manager for Angola, Joseph Ribeiro, noted that the energy sector plays a vital role in national efforts towards poverty reduction and sustainable socio-economic development, as per the country’s economic diversification agenda.

Angola’s National Director for Rural Electrification in the water and energy ministry, Serafim Silveira, underscored the importance of mini-grids to the government’s rural electrification objectives. The other speakers were Executive Director of the Lusophone Renewable Energy Association, Isabel Abreu, and the representative of the Establishment Committee of the Angolan Renewable Energies Association, Pedro Torres.

The Bank’s Division Manager for Renewable Energy, João Cunha, said the report will inform the design of technical assistance by the Bank to the Angolan government in preparation for the rollout of a mini-grid scale-up program

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Ten Years to Midnight: Four urgent global crises and their strategic solutions

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The world has 10 years to solve its urgent challenges or it will be too late. In his new book, TEN YEARS TO MIDNIGHT: Four Urgent Global Crises and Their Strategic Solutions (August 4, 2020; Berret-Koehler), Blair Sheppard sets out why that timeline is so crucial, what the most urgent challenges are and the key elements of a solution.

He argues that the 70-year period of economic and social progress kicked off by the Marshall Plan has now unraveled. Instead of a steady story of progress, the world faces four crises:

  • A crisis of prosperity, with rising inequality, poor life choices for young people, the squeezed middle class and a mass of people on the brink of retirement but lacking the savings to sustain them;  
  • A crisis of technology, as our economic system drives innovation but fails to manage unintended negative consequences which pollute key elements of life support, from our atmosphere to our news;
  • A crisis of institutional legitimacy, as traditional institutions try to maintain their existing structures in the face of major global forces, and find themselves buckling and warping rather than adapting; and,
  • A crisis of leadership, as those who should help us manage these crises instead focus on narrow priorities rather than leading the world towards holistic solutions.

Drawing on new data and analysis conducted in Sheppard’s role as Global Leader for Strategy and Leadership for the PwC network, the author argues that businesses, governments and civil society should adopt a fundamentally different approach to the one that drove 20th Century economic development. He argues for greater emphasis on local economies (local first) as well as on scaling innovative solutions quickly (massive, fast), a fundamental reshaping of innovation policy to bake societal outcomes into technological development, greater use of public private partnerships with clear goals, and more inclusive measures of success.

Having worked with global leaders across a range of fields, Sheppard argues this change requires a new approach to leadership that embraces apparently contrasting elements – to be humanly and technologically savvy, heroic and humble, rooted in tradition as a ballast but also innovative.

The book began with a question: What are the world’s most pressing global concerns and how can they be solved together? What he and his team discovered is a new path to rebuilding and reinvigorating institutions, redefining what it means to be a nation or economy, forging shared cultural and social bonds, and rekindling innovation for social good instead of harm. To press these solutions forward as the clock ticks toward a global unwinding, Sheppard also calls for a new level of imagination, cooperation and urgency from the world’s leaders in every sector and every country.

For more information, please visit the book’s webpage.

Blair Sheppard is the Global Leader for Strategy and Leadership at PwC, a network of professional services firms committed to building trust in society and solving important problems. He is also the Dean Emeritus and Professor Emeritus of Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, where he taught  for thirty-three years. He was the principal force behind opening Duke’s campus in China, and the founder and CEO of Duke Corporate Education. He was born in Hamilton, Ontario (Canada) and lives in Durham, North Carolina (US).

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