OECD Education Today: Pandemic school closures “were not inevitable” and “a policy choice”

Anthony LaMesa
3 min readJul 6, 2022

Worst-performing school systems had the longest closures

In a recent blog post that likely went unnoticed by most, education leaders from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), World Bank, UNICEF, and UNESCO didn’t mince words about the harms of pandemic school closures.

The post said extended school closures “have had devastating effects on many children’s cognitive, social, and emotional well-being.”

Children have been the least vulnerable to COVID-19 but no group has been harder hit by public policy responses to contain this virus. Emerging evidence shows how long schools closures have had devastating effects on many children’s cognitive, social and emotional well-being.

Even more noteworthy, however, is that according to the post’s authors, data from 32 OECD and partner countries demonstrated “no relationship between the extent of school closures and COVID-19 infection rates across countries,” which they said showed that “school closures were not inevitable but, rather, a policy choice, often framed by a lack of institutional capacity to reconcile educational provision with health and safety.” The author’s noted that countries with the worst-performing school systems tended to have the longest school closures, which has “further amplified the educational gap across countries.”

Importantly, the data from the OECD, UNESCO, UNICEF & World Bank survey show no relationship between the extent of school closures and COVID-19 infection rates across countries. This shows that school closures were not inevitable but, rather, a policy choice, often framed by a lack of institutional capacity to reconcile educational provision with health and safety. As a rule, well-functioning school systems with high PISA scores typically saw shorter school closures than those with poor PISA performance. This has further amplified the educational gap across countries.

This is a remarkable admission and refreshingly honest analysis, perhaps the kind of analysis that many politicians and government bureaucrats are still unwilling to undertake. (Well, Norway and Sweden may be exceptions.) School closures were not a necessity for responding to the pandemic, but a policy choice made by places with weak governance and institutions incapable of properly assessing trade-offs and…

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Anthony LaMesa

Some thoughts on reopening America’s public schools.