Two years ago schools shut down around the world. These are the biggest impacts

From National Public Radio:

Two years ago this month, schools closed their doors in 185 countries. According to UNESCO, roughly 9 out of 10 schoolchildren worldwide were out of school. It would soon be the biggest, longest interruption in schooling since formal education became the norm in wealthier countries in the late 19th century.

At the time, I spoke with several experts in the field of research known as “education in emergencies.” They gave their predictions for the long-term implications of school closures in the United States based on the research on previous school interruptions caused by war, refugee crises, natural disasters and previous epidemics.

Two years on, schools are open and masks are coming off in most places, restoring a feeling of normalcy.

So, how have these predictions played out? Let’s take a look.

Prediction: Student learning will suffer. Vulnerable and marginalized students will be most affected.

Verdict: TRUE

In the United States, compared with wealthy countries in Western Europe and East Asia, schools were typically closed longer. A majority of Black, Hispanic and Asian students stayed remote through early 2021. In the fall of 2020, enrollment dropped, driven by families who sat out pre-K and kindergarten.

All the data we have to date shows students falling behind where they would have been without the interruption. As predicted, these gaps are consistently bigger for low-income, Black and Latino children. This study from November found these gaps were bigger at schools that had less in-person learning in the 2020-2021 school year.

Some of the latest research focuses on students learning to read. One recent study in Virginia found early reading skills at a 20-year low this past fall.

In New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, schools were closed for a few months, and student learning recovered to its previous trajectory after two full school years – and then improved from there. Post-COVID recovery could take even longer.

Prediction: A spike in the high school dropout rate and a fall in college enrollment.


For the class of 2020, districts relaxed graduation requirements, and students graduated in similar or even improved numbers compared with previous years. For 2021, it was a different story. Data is incomplete, but Chalkbeat reported recently that high school graduation rates were trending down in most states for which they had data. And district superintendents have told NPR they are missing older students who have traded schooling for paid work.

Federal data, meanwhile, show college enrollment is down more than 1 million students over the past two years. This is an international phenomenon that could reduce earnings around the world by a total of $17 trillion if not addressed, the UN predicts.

Link to the rest at National Public Radio

The COVID shutdowns were, among many other things, a huge sociology and psychology experiment for the world. Different nations responded in different ways, but most acted quickly and for most people, a lack of normalcy continued over an extended period of time.

PG suggests that the consequences/results of the COVID period will continue to be analyzed for quite a number of years into the future.

PG remembers reading about/talking about other similar shared shocks in somewhat recent history.

  1. Everyone in the United States who alive and cognizant of world affairs remembered where they were and what they were doing when they learned that the Japanese had attacked Peral Harbor.
  2. Everyone in the United States (and perhaps elsewhere) (alive and cognizant) remembers where they were when they learned that President John F. Kennedy had been assassinated.
  3. Everyone in a much more media connected world remembers where they were when they heard that the World Trade Center in New York City was destroyed by hijacked airliners and recalls the experience of watching replays of that event over and over again on television.

These were shared events that shocked nearly everyone, traumatized more than a few and left lasting memories and, for more than a few, consequences thereafter.

Each event was different in significant ways, but the communal disruption and group emotional impact had some similar emotional impacts, short-term and long-term and certainly resulted in a more consequential communal impact than other memories during the relevant time period. PG suggests that COVID will be another such disruptive and traumatizing event, different in some ways from earlier events/periods, but similar in others.

Psychiatrists and psychologists will be picking up the pieces for a long period of time. Millions of news stories and think-pieces and masters/doctoral theses will result. Urban legends will proliferate.

1 thought on “Two years ago schools shut down around the world. These are the biggest impacts”

  1. One of the problems with the OP, and the discussion in general, is that it treats all school curriculum areas identically.

    They’re not. And illustrating that is excrutiatingly simple. Consider three different tenth-grade college-prep classes:

    Geometry (or Advanced Algebra; some programs swap the order)
    Second-year foreign language (that is truly foreign, not — as is common — someone who speaks Spanish at home getting “easy credits”)
    Basic chemistry

    The math class is readily taught via remote learning. It may not be as individualized, and may not allow nearly enough opportunity for interruptions to clarify particular unclear diagrams and transformations on the chalkboard/whiteboard.

    The foreign-language class is much less so. “Immersion” — the default method for teaching languages to those above about ten years old or so — is less than complete if all of the keyboards and on-screen prompts and instructions are in English! Plus, videoconferencing inherently limits the nonverbal aspects of communication and feedback, and those are absolutely critical to immersion-mode teaching (and between students, not just student-instructor).

    Chemistry would be a disaster. I don’t know about you, but I’m less than enthusiastic about allowing high school sophomores to do labs in their kitchens. Not to mention the expense. (And the less said about what happens to the “excess chemicals” the better.)

    And it’s several orders of magnitude worse at the college level, four years later. I cannot imagine chemistry majors, biology majors, environmental-science majors, nurses, etc. successfully completing the required organic chemistry laboratory as sophomores via remote learning or “watch and assimilate” methods. The whole point is to obtain experience with both the joys and pitfalls of data collection and analysis.

    So I predict a “generational hole” will start showing up in two or three years… and it will be the worst in the laboratory sciences, slightly less bad in languages and other interaction-intensive fields, and still pretty bad elsewhere. Especially for students called to the chalkboard/whiteboard to solve small mathematical conundrums. (Please see me after class, Mr Meyer.)

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