Most countries in Latin America and the Caribbean completed, as of September, six months with schools closed public health measures taken by governments in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The prolonged closure of schools, in addition to the confinement due to lockdown measures and the loss of households’ economic security, will have devastating consequences for an entire generation if immediate action is not taken.
The pandemic triggered an educational emergency: children and youth are at higher risk of learning losses and school dropout; they are also at higher risk of food insecurity as well as physical and mental health problems, compromising their development in the long term.
Governments throughout the region have implemented distance learning strategies intended to maintain certain degree of continuity in children’s and adolescents’ learning and well-being. However, these solutions do not benefit all students equally, and may even further exacerbate the education gaps that existed in the region before the pandemic.
In the document COVID-19 and primary and secondary education: the impact of the crisis and public policy implications for Latin America and the Caribbean, I argue that addressing this educational emergency requires governments to focus on guaranteeing children’s and adolescents’ learning and well-being, and plan for the urgent reopening of schools. At the same time, it is important to develop hybrid education strategies that combine in-person and distance learning to ensure learning for all students, in the new context where not all instruction will be in person.
Before the pandemic, the region faced a learning crisis that disproportionately affected the most disadvantaged children and youth. Keeping schools closed and not being able to reach the most vulnerable with high-quality distance learning solutions, will further deepen learning losses and gaps.
This educational emergency can be an opportunity for LAC to rethink the current education system and build one that closes existing inequalities and enables all children and adolescents in the region to reach their full potential.
Achieving this will require protecting educational budgets and a long-term vision for managing the current emergency, gearing investments towards rebuilding an education system that ensures access to learning for all students, particularly the most vulnerable. Not doing it, will put at an entire generation at risk.