Pandemic school closures could widen gap between rich and poor 

Pandemic school closures could widen gap between rich and poor 

Extended school closures will lead to growing deficits in learning and may reverse many of the gains made in recent years.

School closures due to the pandemic could reverse much of the progress made addressing educational disadvantage, widening the gap between rich and poor and impacting on children’s lifetime earnings.

Disadvantaged students will “almost certainly” see larger impacts on their earnings, and school closures have had a “devastating, and likely lasting” impact on children with special educational needs and their families.

That is the stark warning from Social Justice Ireland today as it launches its Education and Covid-19 policy brief.

“The impact of Covid-19 on our education system cannot be understated,” said Michelle Murphy, research and policy analyst with Social Justice Ireland.

It will widen the learning gap between rich and poor, impose long-term losses of income on all students - with disadvantaged students suffering greater learning losses and greater impacts on their lifetime earnings.

In its analysis, Social Justice Ireland estimates that the impact of the Covid-19 school closures will follow students into the labour market unless appropriate policies and investments are put in place.

An average student can expect around 3% lower earnings throughout their lifetime as a result of the interruption to their education, according to research by the OECD.

“This estimate should be considered the lower end of potential losses as higher skill levels are significantly linked to employment and higher earnings.” 

Lifetime earnings

“Disadvantaged students will almost certainly see larger impacts on their lifetime earnings.” An “optimistic” scenario for the educational impact of Covid-19 on national economies is forecasted at a loss of 1.5% GDP throughout the remainder of the century.

This loss is expected to be even greater if education systems are slow to return to prior levels of performance.

According to Social Justice Ireland, this will lead to “lower incomes, lower tax revenues, lower skill levels, and productivity and a higher reliance on social protection systems.” 

“This estimate was produced in 2020 so does not include the learning losses and school closures so far in 2021, therefore the long-term impact on students and economies are likely to be more damaging.”  

While the digital divide impacted on learning, ultimately the lack of instruction and explanation, and being absent from a learning environment, negatively impacted on students.

Learning is a dynamic process that builds on prior learning and students require explanations and support from trained teachers to acquire new skills, learning and information.

“Extended school closures will lead to growing deficits in learning and may reverse many of the gains made in recent years in terms of reducing educational disadvantage.” 

“One of the policies that can begin to mitigate the impact of Covid-19 on children is that sufficient resources are in place to support all families, particularly children in DEIS schools.” 

To address the impact of school closures, Social Justice Ireland is calling for:

- Average class sizes to be kept below 20, and a reduction in the pupil-teacher ratio.

- To make the improvement of educational outcomes for students from disadvantaged backgrounds and disadvantaged communities a policy priority.

- Support for schools to ensure that they have the required number of staff with appropriate qualifications, and the necessary programmes, supports, and resources to meet the needs of pupils with special educational needs.

Dr. Sean Healy, chief executive of Social Justice Ireland, said: “Much of the progress made addressing educational disadvantage to date will be reversed unless the appropriate policies and investment are put in place.” 

“Policymakers must give serious consideration as to how the lost learning of students at all levels of education will be made up in the coming months and years.”

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