Unpacking the Pandemic: The Lasting Impact of Education Learning Gaps

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Jan 25, 2024

The pandemic taught us quite a few lessons when it comes to dealing with the unprecedented. In the educational sphere, COVID-19 presented us with a few challenges. It also left us with some significant changes, especially when it came to learning beyond the classroom and reaching students despite school closures.

A main concern regarding the pandemic’s effect on education worldwide is the learning gaps it left among children.1,2 Aside from a decline in overall learning achievement, a delay in developmental milestones was also observed in young children and those who have special needs.  But what exactly are the reasons behind the widening gap – and more importantly, how do we go about closing it?

School closures

The closing of schools to prevent the virus from spreading impacted traditional learning in three ways. 

  1. New learning technologies were hastily implemented despite educators’ lack of teacher training and experience in remote instruction.2 
  2. The absence of in-classroom learning contributed to changes in peer environments, with children interacting less with other students (especially from different socioeconomic backgrounds).2
  3. Parental demands also became a concern as remote learning put increasingly more strain on time and financial resources.2

Overall, students' lack of in-classroom feedback and support from teachers in real-time had caused an impact on their overall learning achievement and social-emotional development.  

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Socio-economic factors

Education inequality became magnified as children in lower-income areas faced more barriers when it came to learning.1,2 Among these challenges were a need for workspace, internet access, and learning devices to participate in remote learning. Concerns about food insecurity, losing of loved ones to COVID-19, and homelessness were also brought to light and forced many older students to look for jobs or become caretakers at home.1 

In short, students were faced with a heavier cognitive load as they had to quickly adapt to new ways of learning while simultaneously adjusting to unfortunate and unprecedented circumstances brought about by the pandemic.2

Learning loss

The pandemic brought about stress and anxiety in children, not only directly affecting their mental well-being but also hindering their cognitive function and concentration. All around the world, learning losses were observed across all grade levels. When it came to standardized tests, declines were seen in proficiency rates or percentile scores, especially in math and reading.1,2 

Apart from academics, disruption from early education may have also impacted younger children’s developmental milestones and formation of social-emotional skills. This was probably due to isolation and the lack of interaction with peers, teachers, and other foundational learning experiences. 

Students with special needs especially faced a disruption in education, as many were no longer able to access personalized support and services.2

What now?

To address these concerns, a study was launched by the Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research on academic recovery intervention. The study found that increasing instructional time helped lessen the learning gap.3,4 However, this comes with its own challenges as it would require educators to spend extra hours tutoring after class.1,2,3,4 Schools would also need to integrate new systematic measures such as devising new centralized methods to address staffing and scheduling, as well as to help identify students that need support while also encouraging their families’ engagement.2,3,4 

The pandemic has brought about significant changes in modern education such as declines in learning achievement due to a host of socio-economic factors and school closures. But if there’s one thing we learned about the pandemic is that there is always something to gain after a hard time. Many parents got more involved at home and now, thanks to remote work options, have been able to spend more time with their children. Communication often improved as educators and parents began to collaborate more in addressing student needs. Even in isolation, communities came together to implement safe and innovative ways to access essentials and basic commodities. 

Though the pandemic proved that there are still a lot of gaps that needed to be addressed, it also showcased people’s resilience and grit in overcoming these challenges. All is not lost – and now, educators and students can get back on track to lessening the gap.


  1. Turner, C. (2022, June 22). 6 things we’ve learned about how the pandemic disrupted learning. NPR. https://www.npr.org/2022/06/22/1105970186/pandemic-learning-loss-findings
  2. Pinto, S. (2023, August). The pandemic’s effects on children’s education. (n.d.). Richmond Fed. https://www.richmondfed.org/publications/research/economic_brief/2023/eb_23-29
  3. Goldhaber, D. Kane, T. McEachin, A. Morton, E. Patterson, T. Staiger, T. (2022, May). The Consequences of Remote and Hybrid Instruction During the Pandemic. Center for Education Policy Research Harvard University. https://cepr.harvard.edu/files/cepr/files/5-4.pdf?m=1651690491
  4. Carbonari, M. Davison, M. DeArmond, M. Dewey, D. Dizon-Ross, E. Goldhaber, D. Hashim, A. Kane, T. McEachin, A. Morton, E. Patterson, T. Staiger,D. (2022, December). The Challenges of Implementing Academic COVID Recovery Interventions: Evidence from the Road to Recovery Project | CALDER. (n.d.). https://caldercenter.org/publications/challenges-implementing-academic-covid-recovery-interventions-evidence-road-recovery

About the Author

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Nicole Torres

Nicole is an experienced digital marketer with a background in design and information architecture.

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