Over the last two years, the global pandemic has spurred changes in nearly every aspect of life. In many cases, we’ve seen losses. One of the most prevalent types of losses was, and still is, learning losses. 

Learning losses are the losses that the pandemic caused in regard to education. Covid-19 essentially halted life as we knew it. And for students, one of the biggest challenges was getting back into the swing of school.

This was difficult for many, as most students transitioned from learning in a dynamic, engaging environment to staring at their teacher through a computer screen, trying not to get distracted by their beloved (and temporarily closed) PS4 just a walk away. 

In adjusting to living in the face of COVID-19, students had to transition to a completely new form of education. In doing so, many students faced challenges—they had difficulties focusing, studying, and absorbing material. 

Covid-19 led to learning losses, and mental health challenges

In general, the pandemic seemingly yielded higher rates of depression and anxiety.

Mckinsey report demonstrates this by illustrating that Covid-19 is directly related to levels of distress. And when students are stressed and/or depressed, they’re already likely to face more difficulty learning. So essentially, many students were looking at mental health challenges in conjunction with navigating a new learning environment. 

Indeed, learning loss isn’t only related to the pandemic itself, but also to its emotional and mental health consequences.

A 2020 survey of 1,000 parents found that:

  • 71% of respondents said that the pandemic was a significant stressor for their child.
  • 69%  claimed that the pandemic was the worst thing to happen to their child. 

So between adjusting to virtual life and dealing with potential anxiety and depression, it’s not surprising that students experienced substantial learning losses. If a student is dealing with intense anxiety or depression, how can they focus on a trigonomic function lesson? Let alone homework, exams, and projects?

UNESCO estimated that two-thirds of the academic year may have been lost through the change, with 800 million students continuing to face academic disturbances. 

This transition prompted many questions, doubts, and frustrations. And this is understandable, since a major change–let alone a deathly virus–often causes turbulence.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention demonstrated just that. Through their data, they highlighted that virtual learning—in terms of child and parental mental and emotional health—“might present more risks than in-person instruction.”

One paper found that when students were learning from home, progress was, to some extent, halted.

Another report determined that students fell behind in math and reading by several months— for students of color, learning losses were worse (in  that they were expected to be more permanent). Pandemic learning losses

Learning losses disproportionately affected marginalized groups

It’s important to note that pandemic learning losses were not the same for everyone. That is, they disproportionately affected more vulnerable students. Data from The World Bank demonstrates these disparities:

  • Students who are in low SES families, who have disabilities, and who identify as female were less likely to have access to remote learning than their peers. A contributing factor to this disparity was having less access to technological tools and/or electricity.
  • In addition, students of color experienced greater learning losses than other students.
  • In general, learning losses were more substantial in countries/groups of lower SES. Certain countries include Ghana, Mexico, and Pakistan.  

How do pandemic losses affect students?

 Essentially, pandemic losses for students are academic losses—and the transition to remote learning, for many, triggered these deficits. 

One major area of concern is math. According to Brookings data, math performance in 2020 was lower than it was in 2019 across third to eighth-grade students. 

For younger students, remote learning was less accessible than for older students—younger students were also more affected by learning loss than older students (partially because they often had less access to remote learning).

Pandemic losses may result in students feeling incompetent, lost, and insecure about their academic performance. Plus, they may feel alone and isolated with their specific learning issues, which can make it more challenging to seek help.

What can teachers do?

Since some students are still navigating this challenging space, it’s important to recognize that they might continually face difficulties getting back on track. 

Adding summer/extra sessions

One thing teachers may consider is adding extra sessions–whether during the summer or weekends–for students who need extra support. If you have the financial means to do this, or can utilize COVID relief funds, students who are behind may significantly benefit from extra help.  

Having extra school sessions allows students to go over topics in which they feel behind and get back to speed in any other subjects. 

Consider teacher’s assistants

Another potential (partial) solution may be bringing teacher’s assistants (TAs) into the classroom. When you have one teacher and a ton of students, students may not feel that they can get the attention and support they need. Bringing in another instructor can mitigate this issue. If this is an option, having another mentor in the classroom can help increase the individualized instruction and in turn, reverse learning losses.  

Encourage tutoring

Another form of increased support that won’t necessarily require additional work from your school is tutoring(from external parties). In a report on how the pandemic has influenced education, McKinsey & Company recommends tutoring as a tool for diminishing learning losses. 

Learning Losses

If you can implement tutoring in the classroom, great! But if you can’t, you can still encourage students to try tutoring outside of the classroom. If students are still in a remote learning space, they can try online tutoring, eliminating worries about physical contact.  

My Private Professor is an online tutoring platform that is devoted to helping as many students  as possible.

Additionally, we understand that not all students can afford our tutor rate, so we’re grateful that we can offer tutoring grants (which are awarded based on financial need) and maximize our support. 

Tips for students facing learning losses

As a student, it may be overwhelming to figure out how to get back on track during unprecedented times. Fortunately, there are measures you can take to reduce learning losses.

  • Reach out to your teachers and/or any academic mentors to seek support. 
  • Look to online resources to help navigate remote learning—these may include study tools, homework-helpers, or forums. 
  • Enroll in extra classes (if possible) that can bring you up to speed in specific areas.  

One extremely important takeaway from the pandemic: humans are incredibly resilient—more so than we realize. Any major change in life is going to have effects and consequences; but just as we’ve been doing for decades, we learn, and then we bounce back. 

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