For the people who think that children have learned something else valuable during lockdown, you are probably wrong.

My previous post on what the effect on learning has been of the different school closures around the globe has gone a bit viral. A reaction I’ve heard before is that while the schools were closed and while teachers were doing their best to have a kind of distance education, children were probably learning other valuable stuff that can’t be measured through standardized tests.

This could well be the case, but the evidence shows this is probably not the case. It’s very hard to measure such a thing, and we can’t tell based on actual data such as I described in the previous post. Still, there is a way to have a fair idea of the situation. I’ll try to explain.

There were several papers in which predictions were made on the possible loss because of the school lockdowns. Some of those papers I discussed in my researchEDHome talk. The actual data that is coming out now confirms a couple of the predictions that were made before:

  • Yes, there is a negative effect on learning,
  • Yes, the differences between children have become bigger.

The original research that these predictions were based on, can be put into 3 categories:

  • Research on summer loss
  • Research on the effects of natural disasters such as earthquakes
  • Research on the effects of school strikes for a longer period.

This last category of research is interesting to help us find an answer if children have learned something valuable instead of school curricula. Take this study by Michéle Belot and Dinand Webbink from 2010 from which this is the abstract:

This paper investigates the effects of a teacher strike on student achievement. From May 1990 until November 1990 teachers in the French community of Belgium stroked to obtain a salary increase. We exploit the political division of Belgium in a French community and a Flemish community, with similar educational institutions, for estimating the long‐term effects of the strikes. Based on a difference‐in‐differences approach, using data from two different surveys, we find some evidence that the strikes reduced educational attainment and increased class repetition. We also find that the strikes led to a significant reallocation of students to a lower level of higher education. Overall, the results suggest that teacher strikes can lead to substantial costs for those not involved in the conflict.

In the article both authors conclude:

Furthermore, we find that the strikes led to a reallocation of students from university studies to higher vocational education. Hence, students do not seem to have succeeded in compensating for the losses in terms of schooling due to the strikes. Also, the results we find breaks in the evolution of achievement and attainment, breaks that seem to coincide with the timing of the strikes. Thus, it seems that these results are more consistent with a causal effect of strikes rather than a causal effect of a deterioration in schooling environment.

The authors also concluded in another study in 2006 on the same case that these school strikes led to an 11.5% lower starting wage when those pupils entered the labor market. Similar negative effects were found in a 2019 study on school strikes in Argentina with an increase in unemployment and a decline in the skill levels of the occupations into which students were sorted.

This is of course no hard solid evidence that this will be the case again, even in the aforementioned studies the authors are very cautious even to write down big conclusions of the effects of the strikes they describe. For sure this again will also not be the case for every single student affected by the lockdown measures. One could also argue that those children learned something else that was valuable, but that this value wasn’t recognized by the economy. But I start to wonder what this than could be because the studies I’ve mentioned don’t give much hope.

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