Coronavirus: Closed schools threaten $72,000 earnings blow for UK pupils

LONDON (BLOOMBERG) – Closing UK schools to help fight the coronavirus crisis could cost students an average of 40,000 pounds (S$72,864) in lost earnings during their careers, with major economic and social consequences, according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS).

The estimate, amounting to an astronomical 350 billion pounds in aggregate, is likely to intensify pressure on the government to lay out a roadmap for exiting England’s third national lockdown since the pandemic struck almost a year ago.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has insisted the reopening of schools remains a “national priority.” But parents expecting a return after the February half-term break were dealt a blow last week when it was announced that the virus curbs imposed earlier this month will remain until at least March 8.

In a report published Monday (Feb 1), the IFS said that pupils will have missed half a year of face-to-face schooling by mid-February. That, it said, could cost them 4 per cent of their lifetime earnings, based on estimates of educational returns across high income countries.

“All learning is dynamic and builds on skills and knowledge gained at previous stages,” wrote Mr Luke Sibieta of the IFS. “Without sufficient catchup, children will leave school with less knowledge and skills that can be applied in their job or a lower ability to gain further skills.”

The loss of income could mean 100 billion pounds less tax revenue over the long-run to spend on public services or pay down the huge debts currently being accumulated, he said.

There are also dire implications for inequality and well-being. Remote learning is particularly hard for children from disadvantaged backgrounds, who lack the technology and teaching resources enjoyed by those from better-off households, the report noted. Concerns also are growing about the mental health of young people forced to stay at home.

The 1.5 billion pounds the government has pledged to help children catch up is woefully small when set against the 30 billion-pound cost of running schools for six months, according to Mr Sibieta.

“The necessary responses are likely to be complex, hard and expensive,” he said. “But the risks of spending too much time or resources on this issue are far smaller than the risks of spending too little and letting lower skills and wider inequalities take root for generations to come.”

The government responded, saying that it will invest in tutoring programmes and that the problem will tackled on a long-term basis.

“The prime minister was clear last week that extended schools closures have had a huge impact on pupils learning, which will take more than a year to make up,” a spokesperson said. “The government will work with parents, teachers and schools to develop a long term plan to make sure pupils have the chance to make up their learning over the course of this Parliament.”

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