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Public Health: How COVID-19 hindered development of children, young people –World Bank

*The World Bank Group in a new report discloses the Coronavirus pandemic and school closures have threatened to wipe out decades of progress in building human capital

Alexander Davis | ConsumerConnect

The World Bank has disclosed the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic caused a collapse in human capital, hindering development of millions of children and young people in low- and middle-income countries worldwide.

This information is contained in the new World Bank report titled, “Collapse and Recovery: How COVID-19 Eroded Human Capital and What to Do About It’’.

The UN regulatory agency in a statement issued Thursday, February 16, 2023, in Abuja, FCT, said the report analysed global data on the damaging impacts of the pandemic on young people at key developmental stages globally.

The World Bank also stressed the stages were early childhood (0-5 years), school age (6-14 years), and youth (15-24 years).

It further noted: “The report found that today’s students could lose up to 10 per cent of their future earnings due to COVID-19-induced education shocks.

“Also that the cognitive deficit in today’s toddlers could translate into a 25 per cent decline in earnings when these children are adults.’’

David Malpass, President of the World Bank Group in the statement said “the pandemic and school closures threatened to wipe out decades of progress in building human capital.

“Targeted policies to reverse the losses in foundational learning, health, and skills are critical to avoid jeopardising the development of multiple generations.

“Countries need to chart a new course for greater human capital investments to help citizens become more resilient to the overlapping threats of health shocks, conflicts, slow growth and climate change.’’

Malpass also said that  countries of the world needed to lay a solid foundation for faster and more inclusive growth.

The Bank’s statement further noted due to the pandemic, preschool-age children in multiple countries had lost over 34 percent of learning in early language and literacy.

The preschool children had also lost more than 29 per cent of learning in maths, compared to pre-pandemic cohorts, stated the World Bank.

The Group as well said even after schools had reopened in many countries, preschool enrollment had not recovered by the end of 2021.

The Bank stated: “It was down by more than 10 percentage points in multiple countries. Children also faced greater food insecurity during the pandemic.’’

The report also indicated that among school-age children, on average, for every 30 days of school closures, students lost about 32 days of learning.

It said: “This is because school closures and ineffective remote learning measures caused students to miss out on learning and also forget what they had already learned.’’

According to World Ban, in low- and middle-income countries, nearly one billion children missed out on at least a full year of in-person schooling due to school closures.

The statement noted that over 700 million children missed one-and-a-half years of in-person schooling in low- and middle-income countries.

It further stressed: “As a result, learning poverty which was already 57 percent before the pandemic has increased further in these countries, with an estimated 70 percent of 10-year-olds unable to understand a basic written text.’’

The statement said COVID-19 dealt a heavy blow to youth employment.

It showed that 40 million, who would have had a job in the absence of the pandemic did not have one at the end of 2021, worsening youth unemployment trends.

The statement said: “Youth earnings contracted by 15 percent in 2020 and 12 percent in 2021.

“New entrants with lower education will have 13 per cent less earnings during their first decade in the labour market.”

Evidence from Brazil, Ethiopia, Mexico, Pakistan, South Africa, and Vietnam showed that 25 per cent of all young people were neither in education, employment nor training in 2021, it noted.

The Bank’s statement said the report as well highlighted evidence-based policy options to recover from current losses and forestall future ones.

It said in the short term, for young children, countries should support targeted campaigns for vaccinations and nutritional supplementation.

Countries, it stated, should also increase access to pre-primary education and expand coverage of cash transfers for vulnerable families.

It said for school-age children, governments need to keep schools open and increase instructional time, assess learning and match instruction to students’ learning levels.

“Government should also streamline the curriculum to focus on foundational learning.’’

The statement said for youths, support for adapted training, job intermediation, entrepreneurship programmes, and new workforce-oriented initiatives were crucial.

According to the statement, in the longer term, countries need to build agile, resilient, and adaptive health, education, and social protection systems that could better prepare for and respond to current and future shocks.

The statement quoted Norbert Schady, Chief Economist for Human Development, World Bank and a lead author of the report as saying: “People under the age of 25 today, that is, those most affected by the erosion of human capital will make up more than 90 percent of the prime-age workforce in 2050.

“Reversing the pandemic’s impact on them and investing in their future should be a top priority for governments.”

The Bank added: “Otherwise, these cohorts will represent not just a lost generation but rather multiple lost generations.”

The statement said the World Bank Group was working closely with governments to protect and invest in people as they cope with and recover from the pandemic.

It disclosed the Bank’s pandemic response financing reached 72.8 billion dollars between April 2020 and June 2022, including 37.6 billion dollars and 35.1 billion dollars in IBRD and IDA commitments.

The statement related: “During the same period, the Bank’s financing in human development reached 47.5 billion dollars, supporting 300 projects in low- and middle-income countries.’’

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