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Many UK students lack basic reading skills after Covid-19 lockdowns shut schools

Students around the world are suffering long-term damage from school closures in the pandemic.

Staff Writers
2 minute read
Pupils wearing face masks to curb the spread of Covid-19 arrive at a school in Manchester, England, March 8. Photo: AP
Pupils wearing face masks to curb the spread of Covid-19 arrive at a school in Manchester, England, March 8. Photo: AP

Britain is working on a “catch-up” education plan as hundreds of thousands of primary school children are struggling with basic reading and writing following months of Covid-19 pandemic lockdowns, government sources have told the Times.

After the lockdowns, more than 200,000 children of around age 10 who are about to move from primary to secondary schools are facing reading challenges.

A report by the children’s commissioner, Dame Rachel de Souza, showed that on average each student lost roughly 19 weeks of in-person schooling over the course of the pandemic until March 8.

“We asked children to make a huge sacrifice to help control the virus and now we need to give them something back,” de Souza said as she called for a “supercharged educational catch-up.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson will launch a four-year emergency plan to tackle the illiteracy crisis, the Times reported on Sunday.

The problem appears to be so dire it has become the prime minister’s second priority after the vaccination campaign.

It is unclear when the government will officially present its plan to deal with this issue, but the Times sources said that Johnson will deliver what they called a blunt assessment of the social impact of the pandemic in May.

The UK “education recovery” czar, Kevan Collins, is leading the review of the effect Covid-19 has had on schoolchildren, and his plan reportedly involves deploying a “citizens’ army” of substitute and former teachers, as well as university students, to help children catch up.

The UK government is reportedly prepared to spend billions on small group tutoring as well as after-school and holiday clubs, which would essentially mean extending learning hours.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson said on Saturday that British teachers would need to undergo extra training to help children catch up with the months of lessons they have lost. The catch-up plan would likely involve an opportunity for teachers to earn more by working longer hours.

The problems of education being disrupted by the pandemic can be even greater around the poorer countries of the world.

The United Nations is reporting that the Covid-19 pandemic has created the largest disruption of education systems in history, affecting nearly 1.6 billion learners in more than 190 countries.

Closures of schools and other learning spaces have impacted 94% of the world’s student population, rising to 99% in low-income countries.

The crisis is exacerbating pre-existing education disparities by reducing the opportunities for many of the most vulnerable children living in poor or rural areas.

Learning losses also threaten to extend beyond this generation and erase decades of progress, not least in support of girls and young women’s educational access.

Millions of children may drop out or not have access to school next year due to the pandemic’s economic impact alone.