Research for Equitable Access and Learning (REAL) Centre, University of Cambridge
Learning Losses during the COVID-19 Pandemic in Ethiopia: Comparing Student Achievement in Early Primary Grades before School Closures, and after They Reopened
- In comparison with the 2018-19 cohort, students entering Grade 1 after schools reopened began the year with lower foundational numeracy achievements and made slower progress in foundational numeracy during the year. As a consequence, they ended the year with an even wider difference in foundational numeracy compared to the pre-COVID cohort.
- Similarly, Grade 4 students in the 2020-21 cohort started the year with lower numeracy achievements than those in Grade 4 in 2018-19. Their learning progress over the school year was also lower by about 12 points (SD=0.12), widening the difference in numeracy achievement between the two cohorts by 22 points (SD=0.22) at the end of the school year.
- The differences in educational achievement remain evident in both grades even when adjusting for the duration of instructional time and are estimated to be equivalent to more than one-third of an academic year lost.
- Pupils from rural areas and those from the poorest households remain within the lowest numeracy achievement levels. There are also variations by gender for Grade 4 pupils, where boys showed relatively higher progress than girls by the end of the school year.
- Overall, our results continue to suggest the need for targeted support for low-performing students, particularly in rural areas and for those from the poorest backgrounds, so that a further widening in learning inequalities can be prevented.
The outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted the education sector in unprecedented ways. As with many other countries around the world, the Ethiopian government closed schools following the first identified case in the capital city, Addis Ababa, on the 16th of March 2020. Across the country, these closures resulted in more than 26 million1 learners staying at home for almost eight months (UNESCO, 2021).2 In addition to this hiatus in their education, pupils were promoted automatically to the next grade with only 45 days of catch-up classes (Ministry of Education, 2020). In other words, those attending a specific school grade in March 2020 were then promoted to the next grade when school resumed in October 2020.
For a significant proportion of Ethiopian pupils, learning during school closures was extremely limited despite the government’s efforts to create educational programmes via national television and radio stations (Kim et al., 2021a; Yorke et al., 2020). School closures, combined with barriers to accessing remote educational resources, meant potential learning losses for a significant number of pupils.
Several studies have already indicated that COVID-19 resulted in learning losses, especially among the poorest and most disadvantaged groups. A study in Indonesia found that pupils lost 11 points on the PISA3 reading scale due to the four-month school closure from March to July 2020 (Yarrow, Masood & Afkar, 2020). It was also estimated that Grade 4 pupils in South Africa experienced losses equivalent to more than 60 percent of an academic year (Ardington, Wills & Kotze, 2021), while pupils in the UK lost a third of their expected learning during pandemic-related school closures (Major, Eyles & Machin, 2021).
It is anticipated that school closures in Ethiopia could similarly result in learning losses and challenges for pupils to catch up with their learning, particularly for those from disadvantaged backgrounds. Our related emerging findings in Ethiopia have indicated that school closures exacerbated pre-existing inequalities in education, where progress was much lower for rural students compared to those in urban areas who were tracked from Grade 4 to Grade 6 (Kim et al., 2021b; Bayley et al., 2021).
Building on this work in Ethiopia, this Insight Note provides a new perspective on numeracy achievements of Grade 1 and Grade 4 pupils by comparing learning at the start of each academic year and the gains over the course of the year across two academic years: 2018-19 and 2020-21. During the 2018-19 academic year, the Research on Improving Systems of Education (RISE) Ethiopia programme collected data on students’ numeracy achievement from 168 schools. After schools reopened in October 2020, and with additional support from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, data on students’ numeracy achievements were collected for two new cohorts of pupils in Grades 1 and 4 in the same schools using the same instruments. This has enabled us to compare learning patterns between two cohorts in the same grades and schools before and during the pandemic. More specifically, in this Insight Note, we aim to:
- Compare foundational numeracy levels of pupils entering Grade 1 in the 2020-21 academic year relative to those in 2018-19.
- Compare progress in foundational numeracy for Grade 1 pupils over the course of the 2020-21 academic year relative to that seen during the 2018-19 academic year.
- Compare numeracy levels of pupils entering Grade 4 in the 2020-21 academic year relative to those entering the same grade in 2018-19.
- Compare progress in numeracy for Grade 4 pupils over the course of the 2020-21 academic year relative to the progress seen during the 2018-19 academic year.
- Estimate the magnitude of learning loss attributable to the pandemic by calculating the difference in numeracy levels and progress between the two cohorts.
- 2In total, schools were closed for 31 weeks. Of this, all schools were closed for 21 weeks, with a phased reopening resulting in up to 10 additional weeks of closure for some schools.
- 3Administered by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), PISA—Programme for International Student Assessment—evaluates the educational systems of member countries by measuring 15-year-old school pupils' learning outcomes in reading, maths and science.
Araya, M., Rose, P., Sabates, R., Tiruneh, D.T. and Woldehanna, T. 2022. Learning Losses during the COVID-19 Pandemic in Ethiopia: Comparing Student Achievement in Early Primary Grades before School Closures, and After They Reopened. RISE Insight Series. 2022/049. https://doi.org/10.35489/BSG-RISE-RI_2022/049