COVID 19: Impact on K12 and Postsecondary Students

Written By:

Amanuel Bahru

Publishing Date:

December 30, 2021

Even prior to the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, young people already struggled with economic and social integration (Hares & Mundy, 2021). The COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on general wellbeing, the economy, and the social lives of many, with an arguably disproportionate impact on young people, especially youth in lower income nations that struggled especially with the pandemic (International Labor Organization, 2020).

The pandemic has had a significant impact on young people’s education. Data from the U.S. Department of Educations shows that the pandemic has worsened pre-existing educational gaps and has limited academic growth. Social distancing requirements led schools to transition to online education and this has led to educational gaps because of that technological barriers that exist in accessing online education (U.S. Department of Education, n.d.). Most students experiencing these barriers tend to be students of color, students with disabilities, and those from a lower socioeconomic backgrounds (U.S. Department of Education).

It is estimated that approximately 1.57 billion or 91.3% of students globally were out of school as a result of COVID-19-related school closures (Hares & Mundy, 2021). Loss of learning resulting from the pandemic is a real concern and the consequences will be felt in the years to come (Human Rights Watch, 2021).

In addition, school environments commonly provide youths a sense of community. Many students have an opportunity to join school-based organizations, however, that was no longer possible due to remote learning and social distancing. Therefore, some students have missed that sense of community by not being able to interact with their peers in-person. For example, studies suggest that lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ+) students are at a higher risk of developing anxiety and stress due to not being able to be in school in-person and participating in various activities that provide them with a sense of community and support from their fellow peers (U.S. Department of Education, n.d.). Learning from home has also presented extra challenges for students that are at risk of violence, sexual harassment, and abuse from intimate partners or household members, due to being confined to close quarters with abusers (U.S. Department of Education, n.d.). Overall, almost all K-12 and postsecondary students have faced mental health challenges related to the pandemic and its effects (U.S. Department of Education, n.d.).

Unlike sectors such as healthcare and economic sectors, educational sectors don’t provide data on how they’ve been impacted from COVID-19 as frequently. However, one Netherlands based study, focusing on primary school students, provides some data on the impact of the pandemic on student performance. This particular study highlights that there is a decrease in the number of courses completed by students and increased variability in student test scores (Engzell et al., 2021). In addition, a survey conducted for this particular study suggests that students spent less time studying during lockdown (Engzell et al., 2021). Regarding the impact of the pandemic on student performance, the study finds that students scored three percentile points lower in reading, spelling and math post-pandemic than those pre-pandemic. In comparison, there was no significant change in test scores between the years 2017-2019 for similar tests (Engzell et al., 2021).

Since disadvantaged students are most likely to have a drop in academic performance as a result of COVID-19-related school closures, addressing COVID-19-related learning loss should start by targeting students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds. One way to do this is by implementing accelerated learning programs (ALPs) which would help students learn more efficiently and allow them to retain information more quickly (Longden, 2013). ALPs are designed to be complementary, rather than an alternative form of education. These programs cover the same amount of information covered in a regular school curriculum, but end quicker. Meaning, ALPs have the same start point as regular school curriculum but take less time to reach the curriculum end point. Evidence suggests that “ALPs have demonstrated considerable success in meeting the needs of these underserved populations, not only in terms of access and equity but also in completion and return to schooling and, most importantly in learning outcomes” (Longden, 2013, p.5).

Overall, COVID-19 has affected youth education, and disproportionately. Since all students don’t have equal access and opportunity to learn from home, some students (i.e., economically disadvantaged) were affected by COVID-19 related school closure the most. Therefore, it is important to provide more educational support (i.e., by integrating ALPs into the regular school curriculum) for students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds since they experience learning loss the most. Doing so will help young people catch up with the rest of their peers when it comes to academic performance.


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