Learning Growth and Inequality in Primary Education

After more than one and a half years of the Covid-19 crisis and the school closures that followed around the world, concerns around decreases in learning growth and exacerbated inequalities are larger than ever. This policy paper analyses how the Covid-19 crisis has affected learning growth and pre-existing inequalities in student achievement.

Amongst the findings, the data show a lower learning growth after one and a half years for reading, maths and spelling in the lower grade levels, compared with similar periods before the Covid-19 crisis. Furthermore, the data show that the decreases in learning growth are notably larger for students with low parental socioeconomic status or income, and for students from single-parent households. These results are quite alarming and suggest that distance learning could not compensate for classroom teaching.

The policy lessons that can be drawn from this are the following:

  1. targeted interventions for vulnerable groups are necessary to close the widened achievement gaps by student background,
  2. available money and resources should be disproportionately allocated to schools with a higher share of vulnerable students,
  3. all interventions should be evidence-based, and students’ access to these interventions should not depend on their parents’ motivation or willingness to opt in,
  4. the interventions should take intensity of treatment into account and consider focusing on indirect factors such as socio-emotional wellbeing, and
  5. schools should only be closed as a very last resort.

About the author

Carla Haelermans is professor of Human Capital, Educational Technology and Inequality at the Research Centre for Education and the Labour Market (ROA) at the School of Business and Economics (SBE), Maastricht University. Her main research interests are in education economics, labour economics, technology in education and inequality. She is the national coordinator of the Netherlands Cohort Study on Education (NCO) for the Netherlands Initiative for Education Research (NRO), and she is the PhD Director of the Graduate School of Business and Economics (GSBE) of SBE.

About the editor

Anna Willman is a Climate Policy Expert at Fores and holds a Master’s degree in Environmental Economics and Climate Change from London School of Economics.

About ELF

The European Liberal Forum (ELF) is the official political foundation of the European Liberal Party, the ALDE Party. Together with 46 member organisations, we work all over Europe to bring new ideas into the political debate, to provide a platform for discussion, and to empower citizens to make their voices heard.

ELF was founded in 2007 to strengthen the liberal and democrat movement in Europe. Our work is guided by liberal ideals and a belief in the principle of freedom. We stand for a future-oriented Europe that offers opportunities for every citizen. ELF is engaged on all political levels, from the local to the European.

We bring together a diverse network of national foundations, think tanks and other experts. At the same time, we are also close to, but independent from, the ALDE Party and other Liberal actors in Europe. In this role, our forum serves as a space for an open and informed exchange of views between a wide range of different actors.

About Tankesmedjan Fores

Fores – Forum for reforms, entrepreneurship and sustainability – is the green and liberal think tank based in Sweden. With one foot in academia and the other in the public debate, Fores works every day towards solutions and policies that strengthen the liberal democracy. Through our three work groups we seek scientifically based, forward-looking policies on Growth, Security and Trust.