COVID-19’s Long-Term Impact on Education

Learning Losses and Economic Effects

12 January 2021

School closures have led to dramatic consequences both in terms of loss of revenue and diverging economic wellness for present and future generations.

Today, the governments of Europe are focusing on fixing the short-term economic issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Stating the obvious, the hit to the economies has been considerable and across many sectors.

Most governments felt it was necessary to shutter the windows on restaurants, gyms and the entertainment venues in order to prevent the communication of the virus and overwhelming their healthcare systems.

Similarly, school closures were a universal response to the pandemic during the spring, and they have also been applied in many countries during our current, second wave.

While governments have made tremendous strides to buffer the negative effects of the immediate economic strains put on our societies, less attention has been placed on the long-term consequences of these closures.

Lingering worry

Research has shown that being in school improves your later income remarkably, having an additional year of tutelage can give you a 10 per cent boost to your earnings, but it also matters for the economic development of the country. Frankly, the more a population has in their collective intelligence, the more they invent and the more technological progress will occur, which in turn will improve the GDP growth of a nation.

A recent OECD report outlined the really dramatic consequences school closures have had on European societies.

The cost is enormous for numerous countries. By the end of the century, estimates of the damage to GDP caused by COVID-19 vary; for Germany it may be 1.3 trillion euros; for France, 2 trillion euros; for Russia 3 trillion euros and for the US, 15 trillion euros. These large amounts of lost revenue come just at the cost of education missed out on during the pandemic.

Generational competition

One thing that will not be as affected at the local level will be competing with others who have had more in-person instruction as, by-and-large, most students have been on similar academic schedules whether that would be time spent in class or digitally. Thus, these students will not lag behind one another.

However, the already divergent economic wellness of communities and nations will likely increase; inequalities will rise for present and future generations.

Moreover, there are psychological disorders which have been created or exacerbated by the pandemic, and the above OECD calculations have not taken this into account, so while the figures are staggering, they are also an understatement.

Digital gaps

As mentioned above, there may not be as much localised competition, but the countries of Europe were certainly not equal in terms of ability to move the classes online.

Estonia and Finland fared rather well, which is to be expected, but surprisingly, Germany performed rather poorly, with only 6 per cent of parents suggesting their children were getting online instruction from a teacher every day.

The most common instruction came in form of sheet work which had to be printed off by parents. A vast majority of the German pupils had to do such “homework”, but only half even had to hand in the papers to a teacher for feedback and assessment.

These students were sure to lack motivation and for borderline students, this kind of experience can be detrimental.

Family background

Studies from Hungary and Germany highlight the impact of having parents with further education as well as those who have parents focused on their children’s education.

The results suggested that if the parent was paying attention to what was happening with their child, the child tended to perform better, but this was not necessarily affected by the parent’s level of education.

Regardless of the situation, there was a decrease in the amount of time spent actively learning, and on average it was almost halved.

Nevertheless, inequality will be on the rise in such circumstances which can eventually be used by populist forces attempting to capitalise on the situation. Central European governments and the EU would do well to shore up the recognised deficiencies as soon as they are capable.


This is a summary of a discussion with Larissa Zierow (Deputy Director, ifo Center for the Economics of Education) and Edit Inotai (Senior Fellow, CEID) at the New Europe 100 Forum 2.0 on 10-11 December 2020, edited by Galan Dall, Editor-at-Large of Visegrad Insight. Find out more about the New Europe 100 network here. For updates, follow us on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

The interview is part of a project supported by the International Visegrad Fund.




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