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The looming fall in the quality of learning during the pandemic

The long-term consequences of COVID-19 on young people's education are increasingly worrying.
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AFP/ YASSER AL-ZAYYAT  -   Arham al-Khateeb, an Arabic teacher at a Kuwaiti school, teaches an online class to students via laptop as she sits in an empty classroom on the first day of class, at an educational centre in Kuwait City on October 4, 2020.

Among the many crises resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, education is not a minor one. In fact, the studies being carried out in recent months have set off the first alarm bells for the future of the generation of young people being trained in the more than a year and a half since the virus devastated the "old normal", which little by little seems to be recovering at last.

CAF, the Development Bank of Latin America, organised a telematic meeting entitled "Policies for Social Inclusion", as part of its "Post Pandemic Dialogues" series. It addressed the different crises that the population will face in the long term once the virus has been eradicated, which for the moment cannot be celebrated. Julián Suárez Migliozz, Vice President of Sustainable Development at CAF (Development Bank of Latin America) was in charge of moderating a panel in which education took up a large part of the discussion time due to the results of the latest studies carried out, which do not provide overly optimistic data.

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"Children and young people may face a potentially unprecedented drop in their learning," said Ricardo Estrada, senior economist in CAF's socio-economic research directorate. He added that "it can carry over into the long term, having negative effects on the world of work and their personal wellbeing". The skills of the future are being built right now. If you don't pay attention to what students are lacking during this period, it will be very difficult to address the problems that will arise in the future as a result of something you may not be doing all you can.

There are two determinants on the education side that are probably the most severely affected. Impact on household income. Many of these young people in Latin America are more exposed to malnutrition, stressful situations or even to work and participate directly in income-creating tasks. On the other hand, distance education is much less effective than face-to-face education, as has been observed since it began to be used because of the impossibility of having all the students in class due to capacity and social distancing measures.

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However, there are strategies that are effective in combating these problems. In the first place, everything involves returning to face-to-face teaching as soon as possible, while respecting the relevant health measures in each country. If this is not possible in the short term, small group tutoring is one of the tools that teachers and students have been using most since the pandemic hit. Recent studies show that it is one of the preferred alternatives for both, and also proves to be very effective for student learning.

However, education must be accompanied by a favourable environment, as explained by Pablo López, Senior Executive of CAF's Directorate of Analysis and Technical Evaluation of Sustainable Development. Local governments in Latin America have a very important responsibility in terms of public services, of course, but with the arrival of COVID-19, efforts must be even greater. From water supply to public transport, which had to be maintained even though the drop in demand was very drastic due to the confinements. The management of services must be at the heart of future planning if we are to avoid a crisis like the one the world is still experiencing.