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Learning Inequality During the Covid-19 Pandemic

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  • Engzell, Per
  • Frey, Arun
  • Verhagen, Mark D.

Abstract

Suspension of face-to-face instruction in schools during the COVID-19 pandemic has led to concerns about consequences for student learning. So far, data to study this question have been limited. Here we evaluate the effect of school closures on primary school performance using exceptionally rich data from the Netherlands (n≈350,000). The Netherlands represents a best-case scenario with a relatively short lockdown (8 weeks) and a high degree of technological preparedness. We use the fact that national exams took place before and after lockdown, and compare progress during this period to the same period in the three previous years using a difference-in-differences design. Our results reveal a learning loss of about 3 percentile points or 0.08 standard deviations. These results remain robust when balancing on the estimated propensity of treatment and using maximum entropy weights, or with fixed-effects specifications that compare students within the same school and family. Losses are up to 55% larger among students from less-educated homes. Investigating mechanisms, we find that most of the effect reflects the cumulative impact of knowledge learned rather than transitory influences on the day of testing. The average learning loss is equivalent to a fifth of a school year, nearly exactly the same period that schools remained closed. These results imply that students made little or no progress whilst learning from home, and suggest much larger losses in countries less prepared for remote learning.

Suggested Citation

  • Engzell, Per & Frey, Arun & Verhagen, Mark D., 2020. "Learning Inequality During the Covid-19 Pandemic," SocArXiv ve4z7, Center for Open Science.
  • Handle: RePEc:osf:socarx:ve4z7
    DOI: 10.31219/osf.io/ve4z7
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    1. Agostinelli, Francesco & Avitabile, Ciro & Bobba, Matteo, 2021. "Enhancing Human Capital at Scale," TSE Working Papers 21-1196, Toulouse School of Economics (TSE).
    2. Grewenig, Elisabeth & Lergetporer, Philipp & Werner, Katharina & Woessmann, Ludger & Zierow, Larissa, 2020. "COVID-19 and Educational Inequality: How School Closures Affect Low- and High-Achieving Students," Rationality and Competition Discussion Paper Series 260, CRC TRR 190 Rationality and Competition.
    3. Agostinelli, Francesco & Avitabile, Ciro & Bobba, Matteo, 2021. "Enhancing Human Capital at Scale," TSE Working Papers 21-1196, Toulouse School of Economics (TSE).
    4. Huebener, Mathias & Spieß, C. Katharina, 2021. "Familien im Fokus der Bundestagswahl: Ein Bekenntnis zur Systemrelevanz von Familien," EconStor Open Access Articles and Book Chapters, ZBW - Leibniz Information Centre for Economics, pages 101-107.
    5. Angrist, Noam & de Barros, Andreas & Bhula, Radhika & Chakera, Shiraz & Cummiskey, Chris & DeStefano, Joseph & Floretta, John & Kaffenberger, Michelle & Piper, Benjamin & Stern, Jonathan, 2021. "Building back better to avert a learning catastrophe: Estimating learning loss from COVID-19 school shutdowns in Africa and facilitating short-term and long-term learning recovery," International Journal of Educational Development, Elsevier, vol. 84(C).

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