Building Back Better After COVID-19: The Importance of Tracking Learning Inequality

João Pedro Azevedo, Lead Economist, Education Global Practice, World Bank Group and Silvia Montoya, Director, UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS)

Our choice of a measure shapes our understanding of the size and nature of a problem. In a recent blog we discuss why the learning poverty measure is well suited to monitor the educational impacts of COVID-19. In this blog, we discuss two complementary concepts: the learning poverty gap and learning poverty severity, to look at distributions among the learning poor and measure how these changes affect learning inequality. The UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS) and the World Bank provide data for both of these concepts. Data for many key SDG 4 indicators were updated in the March data refresh. The UIS is also collecting data on the national response to COVID-19 on education, equity and inclusion.

Understanding changes in learning inequality through the learning poverty gap, learning poverty severity and minimum proficiency

While learning poverty is a simple concept to grasp, this indicator alone does not provide a picture of the learning level and distribution of learning among those below the minimum proficiency level (MPL). Because learning poverty is a headcount ratio, estimates treat all students below the minimum proficiency level as being equally learning deprived. It also does not reflect improvements in learning below the MPL threshold, which can fail to create compatible incentives as it may miss progress in foundational subskills critical for developing reading proficiency, for example, knowledge of spoken words and how to use them, hearing and making the sounds of words, mapping sounds to letters and letters to sounds while learning letter names, among others, as described in the reading rainbow (Figure 1). Understanding the heterogeneity among the learning poor is critical to combat learning poverty as children who do not master these subskills in early primary grades remain unable to read with comprehension.

Figure 1:  SDG 4.1 framework and reading rainbow of literacy subskills

Figure 2:  Distributional sensitive measure of learning deprivation

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