The economic impacts of learning losses
The worldwide school closures in early 2020 led to losses in learning that will not
easily be made up for even if schools quickly return to their prior performance levels.
These losses will have lasting economic impacts both on the affected students and
on each nation unless they are effectively remediated.
While the precise learning losses are not yet known, existing research suggests that
the students in grades 1-12 affected by the closures might expect some 3 percent lower
income over their entire lifetimes. For nations, the lower long-term growth related
to such losses might yield an average of 1.5 percent lower annual GDP for the remainder
of the century. These economic losses would grow if schools are unable to re-start
The economic losses will be more deeply felt by disadvantaged students. All indications
are that students whose families are less able to support out-of-school learning will
face larger learning losses than their more advantaged peers, which in turn will translate
into deeper losses of lifetime earnings.
The present value of the economic losses to nations reach huge proportions. Just returning
schools to where they were in 2019 will not avoid such losses. Only making them better
can. While a variety of approaches might be attempted, existing research indicates
that close attention to the modified re-opening of schools offers strategies that
could ameliorate the losses. Specifically, with the expected increase in video-based
instruction, matching the skills of the teaching force to the new range of tasks and
activities could quickly move schools to heightened performance. Additionally, because
the prior disruptions are likely to increase the variations in learning levels within
individual classrooms, pivoting to more individualised instruction could leave all
students better off as schools resume.
As schools move to re-establish their programmes even as the pandemic continues, it
is natural to focus considerable attention on the mechanics and logistics of safe
re-opening. But the long-term economic impacts also require serious attention, because
the losses already suffered demand more than the best of currently considered re-opening
Published on September 10, 2020
In series:OECD Education Working Papersview more titles