A worldwide survey demonstrates that learning loss spans the world--and is, in fact, significant

Taking a look at global learning loss


A worldwide survey demonstrates that learning loss spans the world--and is, in fact, significant

While many educators found unique and innovative ways to deliver remote and engaging instruction to their students, the majority of teachers responding to a McKinsey survey said virtual learning over the past year is “a poor substitute” for in-person learning.

The survey, which details learning loss on a global level, asked teachers in eight countries to rate how effective remote learning was when it first began–the average score was 5 out of 10, but it’s worth noting that teachers in Japan and the U.S. doled out lower grades, with almost 60 percent rating remote learning between a 1 and a 3 out of 10.

In a report based on the survey results, authors Li-Kai Chen, Emma Dorn, Jimmy Sarakatsannis, and Anna Wiesinger detail how teachers believe remote learning has impacted student learning.

The authors surveyed teachers in Australia, Canada, China, France, Germany, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States between late October and early November of 2020.

Some of their findings include:

  1. As classes moved online, teachers observed that the effectiveness of their instruction declined. Teachers in high-poverty schools found virtual classes particularly ineffective, while those in wealthy and private schools were more likely to say their students had necessary access to internet and devices. Teachers in private and wealthy schools were more likely to report effective remote learning, access, and engagement.
  2. Teachers said that, on average, students were two months behind where they normally would have been by early November 2020. Students have dealt with a number of emotionally taxing and traumatic events since the beginning of the pandemic, and those events impact students’ ability to learn.
  3. Learning loss appears to be linked to how long schools are closed, and even brief shutdowns may have set back learning. Learning loss appears slightly higher for younger grades (K-3) compared to students in grades 9-12. In schools where more than 80 percent of students live below the poverty line, learning loss averages about 2.5 months, while students in schools with more than 80 percent of households living above the poverty line experienced about 1.6 months of learning loss.

The pandemic’s full impact and the world’s abrupt pivot to remote learning “will likely play out for years to come,” the authors note.

“The long-term impact of the pandemic will of course depend on the steps that school-system leaders take now to mitigate and address the damage that’s being done. A critical first step is to improve the quality of remote learning for those students who are still learning virtually,” they write. “But students will also need help to catch up losses that have already occurred. Along with offering more support for students who are behind–through high-density tutoring or more personalized mastery-based programs–students may need to spend extra time in the classroom.”

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Laura Ascione
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