For more than one and a half years since March 2020, most of the world has had to accept the closure of schools, colleges and universities as an ongoing facet of this global pandemic. What none of us in the Education sector (both secondary and tertiary) could have anticipated – whether as students, teachers, lecturers, [...]


Covid-19 & The Future of Education in Developing Countries


For more than one and a half years since March 2020, most of the world has had to accept the closure of schools, colleges and universities as an ongoing facet of this global pandemic.

What none of us in the Education sector (both secondary and tertiary) could have anticipated – whether as students, teachers, lecturers, administrators -or even education agents, was that the greatest disruption to education would happen in the 21st Century and that it would be a virus.

As we move towards what we refer to as the “new normal”, with government institutions, policymakers and even Internet providers which previously scrambled to provide ad hoc solutions, the provision of “distance learning” has fast evolved in this journey to the return of the status quo.

1.   A lot less money all around

In April 2020, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) updated its projections for global growth, from + +3.3% to -3% (negative). We can infer from this “negative growth”, that the education budgets will not rise at the rate required to reach the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal for Education.

With Covid-19, education budgets as a share of GDP are likely to be drastically reduced in an attempt to alleviate other economic constraints. This is especially true in the case of low to middle-income countries, where there is an expected dip in the spend for education, Higher-income countries will dive in and out of recession, making education increasingly difficult to prioritise, however, it is the low-income countries that will suffer the full effect of these spending cuts-  maybe not with immediate effect, but inevitably, down the line.

2.   Children may not return to school

Schools will reopen in due course, however millions of children may be unable to return to school especially children from households which have suffered massive economic shocks.  A recent report done by the Save the Children Foundation, analysing children’s current out-of-school rates and broken down by income group and learning outcomes, have shown that despite huge increases in enrolment during the last two decades, 268 million children were already not in primary and secondary education when the pandemic struck.  Provisions made by the government, for example school meals to considerably reduce the burden of sending children to school, or even direct communication with these marginalised groups with some form of micro credit or a voucher system,  are examples of measures to ensure inclusivity in the return-to-school planning- especially with the high-risk categories of children.

3.   Government-led distance learning

Governments worldwide have reacted at different paces to the closure of schools; some governments have been quick to action distance-learning programs – these being launched within a few days of schools closing. Other countries took much longer to progress on this front and indeed, some are still trying.

Elsewhere, substantial progress has been made, with countries expanding the standard programming to include multiple languages or accessibility features for students with special needs. However, the tragic reality is that millions of children, for the most part in numerous countries, have found their education to be stalled indefinitely, with no access to any kind of education, for months on end and for many, throughout the pandemic, and beyond.

Another recent study, of Google searches for “home-based learning after COVID-related school closures”, indicates that that wealthier households are seeking distance learning opportunities at higher rates than poorer households. The outcomes suggest that the learning loss during school closures is likely to be far more severe and unequal, than previously observed.

As a priority and initial step, governments must consider implementing large-scale “catch-up” programmes for children identified as vulnerable to disproportionate learning loss.  Without the implementation of targeted, evidence-based interventions, the gap between children from wealthier versus financially disadvantaged households, will continue to widen considerably during these months of school closure.

4.   “Edtech” & Sector Disruption

There are high hopes that Education technology, or “Edtech”, would emerge to salvage learning continuity during this global crisis; however, at present, there is limited evidence of the extent to which technology can be substituted for actual teachers or school-based learning.

This is not that surprising, for Edtech relies on the one thing that many families around the world have very limited access to – technology.

Only one in five households in low and lower-middle income countries have access to the Internet; one in two households have access to radio or television.  Even countries such as the US, there is considerable discrepancy along the demographic of income, ethnicity and geography-characterised distance-learning experiences, particularly with low-income and rural-dwelling households.

Private schools too, have been formidably impacted during the school closures, most generating a vastly reduced revenue or no revenue at all.

Owners of private schools have had to let go of their teaching and administrative staff and may have to give up on their their rented premises  Once schools reopen, the negative economic impact to private schools may well continue, with millions of families unable to afford private school fees for their children due to he economic downturn.

Where private schools have enjoyed a greater share of the education market, the pandemic is likely to severely disrupt the previous market dynamics and equilibrium.

Mass shifts to the public school system will undoubtedly strain the government system, particularly in urban areas where the government investment in new public schools is not reflective of the population growth.  Furthermore, transport and cost barriers will mean that some children will be prevented from attending school at all.

5.   The Challenge of
High-stakes exams

One of the most difficult issues for policymakers to address during Covid-19, has been the question of the national and international exams.  While some countries and examining bodies have cancelled or postponed these exams, others have pressed on.  The crisis has brought to light a very pertinent question – whether high-stakes exams are indeed the superlative, or even an adequate way of determining the futures of children with very different backgrounds, learning styles, capabilities and early-life experiences, into the next phase of their education.

High-stakes exams serve to reinforce wealth disparity, which is one of the main factors preventing education being the right of every child and in the societal equaliser it should be.

The pandemic has wreaked havoc on every aspect of societal structure and wellbeing, however, we can anticipate that at some point in the future, the immediate danger to health will be lessened over time, as we gain stability over the virus’ management.

However, it’s another kind of devastation it will leave in its wake, for school children the world over, crippling entire generations to come, unless we are prepared to take swift action to mitigate the effects.

Disclaimer: All ideas and comments are my own and does not represent the views of the company or organization. This article is combination of published plus new ideas and meant only to inform.

-Krishan Senaratna

BSc Hons (Middlesex – UK)

Grad Dip(CIM-UK),


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