For weeks there was only emergency care in schools and daycare centers because of the corona pandemic. Now the facilities are slowly opening their doors again. However, it will take weeks or months to get back to normal operation with all children.
This is not only much too slow for working parents who are overwhelmed with the additional childcare and homeschooling. On Tuesday, four medical associations also published a statement in which they aggressively demand that schools and daycare centers should open completely again in a timely manner. In contrast to many virologists, the signatories – including the professional association of pediatricians – consider the current data on the risk of infection and transmission in children to be sufficient to take this step.
The debate about a complete opening should therefore pick up speed. Because, of course, school and daycare closings are not without consequences. The social and other damage they cause is just not as easy to quantify as the number of bankruptcies or short-time workers.
Three to four percent less living income
Education economist Ludger Wößmann from the Munich Ifo Institute looked at one aspect of possible consequential damage. In an essay, the renowned scientist describes how expensive school closures are for individual students as well as for society as a whole. And it becomes astonishingly concrete: pupils who miss a third of the learning material this school year because of the corona closures should expect three to four percent less income in their entire professional life, writes Wößmann.
First of all, Wößmann therefore assumes that many homeschooling students actually learn much less than they would have done in face-to-face classes and that they do not catch up. But how does he figure that they will later earn an average of three to four percent less?
Wößmann comes up with this number by evaluating a whole series of research projects that already exist on the subject of school, learning loss and career success. On the one hand, the relationship between the skills learned and the level of earned income is well empirically proven. Research has also been carried out into how much more income people earn per additional year of education: in Germany there is an average of around ten percent more income per year – assuming that one third of the education is missing in the Corona school year, one ends up with the more than three percent income disadvantage . “In terms of life income, the loss of income for people without a vocational qualification corresponds to an average of 13,500 euros, for people with an apprenticeship a good 18,000 euros and for people with a university degree around 30,000 euros,” writes Wößmann.
Teacher strikes and short school years
Of course, these numbers are not set in stone. Wößmann tries to apply empirical findings to the current situation, emphasizing the uniqueness of the current situation. However, there is research not only on general contexts, but also on concrete events of school dropout that at least resemble the corona-related lockdown. Wößmann quotes a study of a teacher strike in Belgium lasting several months in 1990: Not only did many of the pupils concerned have to repeat the school year, they also achieved lower levels of education in the long term. Researchers have observed similar effects in school strikes in Canada and Argentina in recent years.
From Germany, Wößmann quotes in particular the experience with short school years in the 1960s, when two shortened school years were used to standardize the beginning of the school year nationwide. Research shows that students who received less than three quarters of a year less had less math skills in adulthood and had an average income that was 5 percent lower.
Disadvantages for the whole economy
Wossmann emphasizes that if lessons are lost across the board, there will be disadvantages not just for the individual, but for the entire economy. “The notion that lost years of education are not that bad when everyone is affected is based on the erroneous assumption that the size of the economic ‘cake’ is fixed. But the cake shrinks when everyone reaches a lower level of education.”
In addition, school closures entail further follow-up costs, for example due to the restrictions in the social-emotional development of the children and the great psychological stress in the families. Homeschooling is particularly difficult for students with poor learning and children from disadvantaged backgrounds, which increases inequality in society, writes Wößmann. His appeal at the end: “Precisely because school attendance will only be possible to a limited extent in the long term, the serious consequential costs of not learning should be considered and comprehensive measures taken so that learning takes place again everywhere.”
Sources: Ifo Institute (Wößmann article) / opinion of professional associations