AERA and OECD Hold Forum on How Education Fared During the First Wave of COVID-19 Lockdowns
AERA and OECD Hold Forum on How Education Fared During the First Wave of COVID-19 Lockdowns

November 2021

On November 29, AERA and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) held an international forum, “How Education Fared During the First Wave of COVID-19 Lockdowns? International Evidence,” drawing an audience of more than 1,600 researchers, policy experts, and practitioners from 86 countries.

Forum participants examined the findings and implications of a new OECD report, Schooling During a Pandemic. The report provides the first synthesis of high-quality studies on student learning and well-being during the first wave of COVID-19 lockdowns (March–June 2020), coming mainly from France, Germany, Ireland, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

AERA Executive Director Felice J. Levine, who moderated the event, welcomed attendees and framed the event.

“The pandemic triggered a global disruption at a scale that most of us have not seen in our lifetimes,” said Levine. “Using the power of robust research and high-quality data and evidence not only to assess the impact of COVID lockdowns on learning and well-being, but also to inform best practices and policies going forward, is absolutely key. We must not lose this opportunity to take something good out of the pandemic.”

Top row from left to right: Rukmini Banerji, Marcella Alldredge (ASL Interpreter), Felice Levine 

Middle row from left to right: Greg Duncan, Fabienne Rosenwald, William Thorn

Bottom row from left to right: Birgitta Rabe, Stéphan Vincent-Lancrin 

William Thorn, a former senior analyst at OECD, and Stéphan Vincent-Lancrin, the Deputy Head of Division, Centre for Educational Research and Innovation in the OECD’s education division, gave an overview of the report.

Thorn and Vincent-Lancrin underscored that, overall, the report found that deep fears of a “lost generation” with significant learning losses were not warranted. Vincent-Lancrin noted that the findings of an increase in achievement gaps by socioeconomic levels—based on results from standardized testing—were conflicting and inconclusive. 

“What struck me in looking at the data was how the empirical information belies the concerns of many experts,” said Thorn. “In many cases, a disaster was predicted, and to some extent averted, largely due to the incredible human capacity for adaptation.” 

Birgitta Rabe, from the University of Essex, and Fabienne Rosenwald, director of DEPP (the independent statistical department in France’s Ministry of Education) provided deep dives into research results on the COVID lockdown in the United Kingdom and France, respectively.

Rosenwald reported that although the percentages of Grade 2 students with “satisfactory mastery of French” dropped in 2020, “the decline observed in 2020 has been almost made up in 2021.” Moreover, when asked about specific French policy, Rosenwald said that when a rise in the achievement gap was noticed in the Grade 1 and Grade 2 students of priority schools versus other schools, “in France, we [decided]  to cut the class size in priority education schools . . . and that helped teachers to recover.” 

One of the through lines in all the presentations was the importance of parental involvement during the COVID lockdowns. Regardless of socioeconomic level, parents made a difference and contributed positively to their children’s learning. Even as the pandemic exposed pre-existing inequalities in education systems, disadvantaged students did not face achievement gaps in learning or schools.

“We found little evidence of a socioeconomic gradient in family learning inputs,” said Rabe. “People of all walks of life seem to be engaging, finding free resources. Some of the main issues for lower economic students were related to connectivity and access to digital and technological devices.”

From left to right: Ka'borski Ledbetter (ASL Interpreter), Greg Duncan

Following the presentations, Greg Duncan of the University of California, Irvine, and Rukmini Banerji, CEO of the Pratham Education Foundation, provided brief comments on the issues raised, which catalyzed a highly engaging moderated discussion among presenters, commentators, and attendees.

Duncan, in response to an attendee question, said there needs to be better sharing of good strategies and policies across countries to help mitigate the long-term effects of the COVID school lockdown. 

“Understanding what countries have done for remediation is an extremely important topic that we should be pooling our information on,” said Duncan. “Teachers are being presented with much more heterogeneous students this fall. Some have caught up, some have kept up, some have fallen behind. You can think about all sorts of ways of trying to address this greater heterogeneity and making sure that the kids who come in behind don’t stay behind.”

Toward the end of the event, Rosenwald and Banerji talked about the importance of capturing research on younger students and the need for consistent international evaluation standards for all countries to assess these young children. “We need to do assessments that parents and teachers in all countries can understand for these very young children,” Banerji said.

The video of the forum will be posted on the AERA website soon.