80% of sixth graders in region will lack basic reading skills due to COVID – study

The education crisis in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) is the second worst globally, with 80 per cent of sixth graders in the region expected to lack basic reading comprehension skills due to COVID-19 school closures.

That’s according to a report, titled ‘Two Years After: Saving a Generation’, released Thursday by the World Bank and UNICEF, in collaboration with UNESCO.

Carlos Felipe Jaramillo, World Bank vice-president for LAC has described the situation as “an unprecedented education crisis” that could affect future developments in the region.

“The fact that a large majority of sixth graders may not be able to understand what they read, jeopardizes the future well-being of millions of children who have not developed critical foundational skills, which increases the risks to deepen the already long-standing inequities in the region,” Jaramillo said.

On average, children in the region have lost approximately one and a half years of learning, according to the report.

Coupled with the fact that the region was already in a learning deficit prior to the pandemic, experts believe LAC will be affected for more than a decade.

“Latin America and the Caribbean has already lost more than 10 years of learning progress due to two years of COVID-19 school closures,” said Jean Gough, UNICEF’s regional director for LAC.

He further noted: “The education catastrophe is still going on, day after day. While most schools have reopened across the region, we are seeing that far too many children are not back in the classroom full-time, and many of those who have returned are lost. In both cases, they are not learning. Turning a blind eye to the most severe learning crisis ever faced by the region will hurt children now and all of us in the long run.”

The State of Global Learning Poverty: 2022 Update report indicates that sub-Saharan Africa is the only region that shows a higher rate of learning poverty, with around 90 per cent of students at the end of primary education unable to read.

Given the severity of the findings, in a release Thursday, the World Bank urged governments to immediately focus policies on two essential strategies: returning to schooling and recovering lost learning.

The first aims to complete the reopening of all schools in a sustainable manner, re-enroll all students, and prevent dropouts. The learning recovery agenda must prioritise foundational reading and math skills, assess learning levels and implement learning recovery strategies and programmes at scale.

Addressing psychosocial needs of students and teachers and digital gaps will also be necessary to tackle these challenges, the World Bank said.

In Jamaica, at least 30,000 primary and high school students are still unaccounted for amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

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