Around one in three countries where schools are or have been closed are not yet implementing remedial programmes post-COVID-19 school closures, according to a UNESCO, UNICEF, World Bank and OECD global “Survey on National Education Responses to COVID-19 School Closures”. At the same time, only one-third of countries are taking steps to measure learning losses in primary and lower second levels – mostly among high-income countries.
“Measuring learning loss is a critical first step towards mitigating its consequences. It is vital that countries invest in assessing the magnitude of such losses to implement the appropriate remedial measures,” said Silvia Montoya, Director, UNESCO Institute for Statistics.
Fewer than a third of low- and middle-income countries reported that all students had returned to in-person schooling, heightening their risk of learning loss and drop-out. However, the majority of countries reported using at least one form of outreach to encourage students’ return to school, including community engagement, school-based tracking, modification to water, sanitation and hygiene services, financial incentives and review of access policies.
“Remedial instruction is vital to help those children who have missed out on school to get back on track and reduce long-term learning losses. This requires an urgent effort to measure students’ learning levels today and collect good quality data to inform classroom practices, as envisioned under the UNICEF, UNESCO, and World Bank’s Learning Data Compact,” stressed Jaime Saavedra, Global Director for Education, World Bank.
The Survey documents how countries are monitoring and mitigating learning losses, addressing the challenge of reopening schools and deploying distance learning strategies. In total, 142 countries responded to the Survey that covers the period from February to May 2021 and spans pre-primary, primary, lower secondary and upper secondary.
“Remote learning has been a lifeline for many children around the world during school closures. But for the most vulnerable, even this was out of reach. It is urgent that we get every child back into the classroom now. But we cannot stop there; reopening better means implementing remedial programmes to help students get back on track, and ensuring that we prioritize girls and vulnerable children in all our efforts,” said UNICEF Global Chief of Education Robert Jenkins.
Key findings from the Survey include:
Countries have responded with a variety of measures to mitigate potential learning losses from school closures: around 40 per cent of countries extended the academic year and a similar proportion of countries prioritized certain curriculum areas. However, more than half of the countries reported that no adjustments have been or will be made.
Many countries improved health and safety standards at examination centres, still, 28 per cent of countries cancelled examinations in lower secondary and 18 per cent of countries did so in upper secondary education.
Reviewing or revising access policies was uncommon, especially for girls – a cause for concern as adolescent girls are at the highest risk of not returning to school in low- and lower-middle-income countries.
Low-income countries are lagging in the implementation of even the most basic measures to ensure a return to school. For instance, only less than 10 per cent reported having sufficient soap, clean water, sanitation and hygiene facilities and masks, compared to 96 per cent of high-income countries.
The Survey also sheds light on the deployment and effectiveness of distance learning and related support more than one year into the pandemic. Results show that:
Most countries took multiple actions to provide remote learning: Radio and TV broadcasts were more popular among low-income countries, while high-income countries provided online learning platforms. However, over a third of low- and lower-middle-income countries reported that less than half of primary school students were reached.
Ensuring take-up and engagement requires remote learning strategies suited to the context, parental engagement, support from and to teachers, and ensuring girls and other marginalized children are not left behind. It also requires generating rigorous data on the effectiveness of remote learning. While 73 per cent of countries assessed the effectiveness of at least one distance learning strategy, there is still a need for better evidence on effectiveness in the most difficult contexts.
“There is a critical need to produce more and better evidence on remote learning effectiveness, particularly in the most difficult contexts, and to support the development of digital learning policies,” said Andreas Schleicher, Director, OECD Education and Skills.
In 2020, schools worldwide were fully closed across all four education levels for 79 teaching days on average, representing roughly 40 per cent of total instructional days averaged across OECD and G20 countries. The figures ranged from 53 days in high-income countries to 115 days in lower-middle-income countries.
Demand for funds is rising, in competition with other sectors, while governments’ revenues are falling. Nevertheless, 49 per cent of countries increased their education budget in 2020 relative to 2019, while 43 per cent maintained their budget constant. Funding is set to increase in 2021, as more than 60 per cent of countries plan to increase their education budget compared to 2020.
These findings reinforce the importance of reopening schools, remedial learning and more effective remote learning systems that can better withstand future crises and reach all students. Moreover, it shows that the measurement of learning losses due to COVID-19 related to school closures is a critical effort for most countries and development partners, highlighted by the recent partnership of UNESCO, UNICEF and the World Bank around the Learning Data Compact.
The Survey is in line with the Mission: Recovering Education 2021 by which the World Bank, UNESCO, and UNICEF are partnering to support countries as they take all actions possible to plan, prioritize, and ensure that all learners are back in school; that schools take all measures to reopen safely; that students receive effective remedial learning and comprehensive services to help recover learning losses and improve overall welfare; and their teachers are prepared and supported to meet their learning needs.
Post-COVID-19, regaining citizen’s trust should be a priority for governments
The COVID-19 crisis has demonstrated governments’ ability to respond to a major global crisis with extraordinary flexibility, innovation and determination. However, emerging evidence suggests that much more could have been done in advance to bolster resilience and many actions may have undermined trust and transparency between governments and their citizens, according to a new OECD report.
Government at a Glance 2021 says that one of the biggest lessons of the pandemic is that governments will need to respond to future crises at speed and scale while safeguarding trust and transparency. “Looking forward, we must focus simultaneously on promoting the economic recovery and avoiding democratic decline” said OECD Director of Public Governance Elsa Pilichowski. “Reinforcing democracy should be one of our highest priorities.”
Countries have introduced thousands of emergency regulations, often on a fast track. Some alleviation of standards is inevitable in an emergency, but must be limited in scope and time to avoid damaging citizen perceptions of the competence, openness, transparency, and fairness of government.
Governments should step up their efforts in three areas to boost trust and transparency and reinforce democracy:
Tackling misinformation is key. Even with a boost in trust in government sparked by the pandemic in 2020, on average only 51% of people in OECD countries for which data is available trusted their government. There is a risk that some people and groups may be dissociating themselves from traditional democratic processes.
It is crucial to enhance representation and participation in a fair and transparent manner. Governments must seek to promote inclusion and diversity, support the representation of young people, women and other under-represented groups in public life and policy consultation. Fine-tuning consultation and engagement practices could improve transparency and trust in public institutions, says the report. Governments must also level the playing field in lobbying. Less than half of countries have transparency requirements covering most of the actors that regularly engage in lobbying.
Strengthening governance must be prioritised to tackle global challenges while harnessing the potential of new technologies. In 2018, only half of OECD countries had a specific government institution tasked with identifying novel, unforeseen or complex crises. To be fit for the future, and secure the foundations of democracy, governments must be ready to act at speed and scale while safeguarding trust and transparency.
Governments must also learn to spend better, according to Government at a Glance 2021. OECD countries are providing large amounts of support to citizens and businesses during this crisis: measures ongoing or announced as of March 2021 represented, roughly, 16.4% of GDP in additional spending or foregone revenues, and up to 10.5% of GDP via other means. Governments will need to review public spending to increase efficiency, ensure that spending priorities match people’s needs, and improve the quality of public services.
Sweden: Invest in skills and the digital economy to bolster the recovery from COVID-19
Sweden’s economy is on the road to recovery from the shock of the COVID-19 crisis, yet risks remain. Moving ahead with a labour reform to facilitate adaptation in a fast-changing economic environment, and investing in digital skills and infrastructure, will be crucial to revive employment and build a sustainable recovery, according to the latest OECD Economic Survey of Sweden.
The pandemic triggered a severe recession in Sweden, despite mild distancing measures and swift government action to protect people and businesses. GDP fell by less than in many other European economies in 2020, thanks to reinforced short-time work, compensation to firms for lost revenue and measures to prop up the financial system, but unemployment still rose sharply. Solid public finances provided room for further stimulus in 2021 to buttress the recovery.
The Survey recommends maintaining targeted support to people and firms until the pandemic subsides, then focusing on strengthening vocational training and skills and increasing investment in areas like high-speed internet and low-carbon transport. Addressing regional inequality, which is low but rising, should also be a priority as the recovery takes hold.
The Survey shows that Sweden has been among the most resilient OECD countries in the face of a historic shock. Yet, like other economies, it faces challenges from demographic changes and the shift to green, digital economies. Investments in education and training, and labour reforms along the lines negotiated by the social partners, will support job creation and strengthen economic resilience. Building on Sweden’s leadership in digital innovation and diffusion will also be key for driving productivity.
After a 3% contraction in 2020, interrupting several years of growth, the Survey projects a rebound in activity with 3.9% growth in 2021 and 3.4% in 2022 as industrial production resumes and exports recover. The recovery in world trade is bolstering the Swedish economy, however the country remains vulnerable to potential disruptions in global value chains.
|The pandemic has aggravated a mismatch in Sweden’s job market, with unfilled vacancies for highly qualified workers coinciding with high unemployment for low-skilled workers and immigrants. The public employment service needs strengthening to provide better support to jobseekers, including immigrants and women, and labour policies should strike the right balance between supporting businesses and workers and supporting transitions away from declining businesses towards growing sectors.|
A rising share of youths and older people in the population, especially in remote areas, is affecting the finances of local governments, which provide the bulk of welfare services. Strengthening local government budgets and ensuring equal welfare provision across the country will require providing tax income to poorer regions more efficiently and raising the economic growth potential across regions through investments in innovation. Improving coordination between government entities and reinforcing the role of universities in local economic networks would help achieve that aim.
Fewer women than men will regain work during COVID-19 recovery
Fewer women will regain jobs lost to the COVID-19 pandemic during the recovery period, than men, according to a new study released on Monday by the UN’s labour agency.
In Building Forward Fairer: Women’s rights to work and at work at the core of the COVID-19 recovery, the International Labour Organization (ILO) highlights that between 2019 and 2020, women’s employment declined by 4.2 per cent globally, representing 54 million jobs, while men suffered a three per cent decline, or 60 million jobs.
This means that there will be 13 million fewer women in employment this year compared to 2019, but the number of men in work will likely recover to levels seen two years ago.
This means that only 43 per cent of the world’s working-age women will be employed in 2021, compared to 69 per cent of their male counterparts.
The ILO paper suggests that women have seen disproportionate job and income losses because they are over-represented in the sectors hit hardest by lockdowns, such as accommodation, food services and manufacturing.
Not all regions have been affected in the same way. For example, the study revealed that women’s employment was hit hardest in the Americas, falling by more than nine per cent.
This was followed by the Arab States at just over four per cent, then Asia-Pacific at 3.8 per cent, Europe at 2.5 per cent and Central Asia at 1.9 per cent.
In Africa, men’s employment dropped by just 0.1 per cent between 2019 and 2020, while women’s employment decreased by 1.9 per cent.
Throughout the pandemic, women faired considerably better in countries that took measures to prevent them from losing their jobs and allowed them to get back into the workforce as early as possible.
In Chile and Colombia, for example, wage subsidies were applied to new hires, with higher subsidy rates for women.
And Colombia and Senegal were among those nations which created or strengthened support for women entrepreneurs.
Meanwhile, in Mexico and Kenya quotas were established to guarantee that women benefited from public employment programmes.
To address these imbalances, gender-responsive strategies must be at the core of recovery efforts, says the agency.
It is essential to invest in the care economy because the health, social work and education sectors are important job generators, especially for women, according to ILO.
Moreover, care leave policies and flexible working arrangements can also encourage a more even division of work at home between women and men.
The current gender gap can also be tackled by working towards universal access to comprehensive, adequate and sustainable social protection.
Promoting equal pay for work of equal value is also a potentially decisive and important step.
Domestic violence and work-related gender-based violence and harassment has worsened during the pandemic – further undermining women’s ability to be in the workforce – and the report highlights the need to eliminate the scourge immediately.
Promoting women’s participation in decision-making bodies, and more effective social dialogue, would also make a major difference, said ILO.
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