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COVID-19’s Impact on South Asia’s Youth Could Last Generations

File Photo A Sri Lankan Christian girl wears a Santa hair band and a face mask as a precaution against the coronavirus as she arrives at a church to attend the Christmas mass in Colombo, Sri Lanka, Friday, Dec. 25, 2020. Photo Courtesy: AP

Kathmandu: The COVID-19 pandemic derailed development and caused a massive collapse in human capital for millions of children and young people across South Asia, according to a new World Bank analysis of data for people who were under the age of 25 at the onset of the pandemic.

Human capital—the knowledge, skills, and health that people accumulate over their lives—is key to unlocking a child’s potential and enabling countries to achieve a resilient recovery and strong future growth.

Yet, the pandemic shuttered schools and places of employment and disrupted key services that protect and promote human capital, such as healthcare and job training.

The new report, Collapse and Recovery: How COVID Eroded Human Capital and What to Do About It presents the first comprehensive analysis of global data on the pandemic’s impacts on young people at key developmental stages: early childhood (0-5 years), school age (6-14 years), and youth (15-24 years).

It finds that in South Asia, today’s students could lose up to 14.4 percent of their future earnings due to COVID-19-induced education shocks. The cognitive deficit in today’s toddlers could translate into a 25 percent decline in earnings when these children are adults.

“The pandemic shut down schools, decimated jobs, and plunged vulnerable families into crisis, pushing millions of South Asia’s children and young people off-track and depriving them of opportunities to flourish,” said Martin Raiser, World Bank Vice President for South Asia.
“Action to recover from losses in human capital is critical and examples from the region show that this is possible at relatively low cost if governments act fast.”

In South Asia, between April 1,2020 and March 31, 2022, schools were fully or partially closed for 83 percent of the time—significantly longer than the global average of schools being closed for 52 percent of that same period.

Among school aged children, on average, for every 30 days of school closures, students lost about 32 days of learning.

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

As a result, learning poverty – already 60 percent before the pandemic — has increased further, with an estimated 78 percent of 10-year-olds in South Asia unable to read and understand a simple written text.