COVID and Inequality: Education

The second inequality we investigate in this series of articles is education inequality – how has COVID affected students, from pre-school to post-16?

Education is vital for any economy, as it provides a skilled labour force and leads to future economic growth through a positive feedback loop. Therefore, when a global pandemic strikes, causing millions of children to miss this crucial education, the consequences would be detrimental. The lockdown periods experienced throughout the pandemic meant that students in the first few weeks lost vital learning time before online learning systems were introduced, and even then, remote learning was nowhere near as effective, and so the quality of education in lockdown was much worse. Inadvertently, education inequality between countries was expanded due to the difference in COVID-19 infection rates and therefore the duration of lockdowns, as children in nations with high numbers of cases would be forced to endure the lower-quality education for longer and fall behind others at their age, and all students fell behind the level of previous years. For example, UK primary school students fell two to three months behind previous cohorts.[1] However, education inequality in the UK did exist before the pandemic, as disadvantaged pupils in 2019 were five months behind their academic peers, although the pandemic still worsened this inequality. By 2020, this gap had increased to 7 months of lost learning for Pupil Premium students[2], with many of these students found in the North due to the North-South divide. The divide was exacerbated during the pandemic as poorer schools in northern cities could not afford to provide the same quality of online learning as a wealthier school in London, so children in the North were disproportionately impacted.

Global education inequality due to financial status was also worsened, with the pandemic depriving children in the poorest countries of four months of schooling, contrasted to just six weeks in high-income countries[3]. This occurred as more impoverished families could not afford to buy the equipment necessary, such as laptops and stationery and therefore had less access to remote learning. As described beforehand, education affects future earning potential, as a lack of qualifications can bar access to high-paying jobs. A disparity in education now can lead to a disparity in wealth in the future. Estimates from the World Bank state that, due to all these factors and more, this generation of students risks losing $17 trillion in lifetime earnings[4], which emphasises how devastatingly massive the increase in education inequality has been due to the pandemic.

Related Posts


[1] Page 7,

[2] Page 10,

[3] Page 36,



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