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Impact of Covid school closures to be felt 'throughout next century'

Ireland could experience a loss in GDP of as much as 1.5% over the next century.

Image: Shutterstock/Natalia Lebedinskaia

A NEW REPORT warns that the impact of school closures during the Covid-19 pandemic will continue to be felt throughout the next century – but the damage can be mitigated with appropriate action now.

Social Justice Ireland today published its Education and Covid-19 policy brief, a report examining how moving to remote learning in a bid to slow the spread of the coronavirus will negatively affect earnings and even the national economy.

“The findings regarding the economic impact of interrupted learning and education on individual student’s earnings throughout their lifetime are very concerning with long-term losses in income of around 3%,” research and policy analyst Michelle Murphy said.

The impact on national GDP is equally concerning with the optimistic scenario being a loss of 1.5% GDP throughout the remainder of the century, with this loss expected to be even greater if education systems are slow to return to prior levels of performance.

Schools were first closed in March 2020, and did not reopen until August. Pupils again returned to remote leaning after Christmas as the third wave pushed Ireland’s healthcare system to capacity in early 2021.

A phased reopening began in March of this year.

The policy brief outlines how the learning gap between rich and poor will be widened, with all students experiencing some loss on their lifetime earnings.

The impact will be felt greatest among disadvantaged students due to the strong link between educational level attained and a reduction in the risk of poverty, the report’s authors highlight.

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Progress reversed

“Much of the progress made addressing educational disadvantage to date will be reversed unless the appropriate policies and investment are put in place,” the report reads.

Social Justice Ireland advises that the government consider keeping class sizes small, reducing the teacher-pupil ratio further, and increasing resources for DEIS schools.

It also advises that “the improvement of educational outcomes for pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds and disadvantaged communities” be made a policy priority, as well as ensuring generally that the resources and planning are in place to plug any holes that appear in Ireland’s educational system and to place a significant focus on driving down both class sizes and the teacher-pupil ratio.

Read the report in full here.

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Nicky Ryan

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