OHT’s Arindam Nandi co-authored a paper that used data from India’s National Family Health Survey 2019-2021 (NFHS-5) to compare pre- and post-pandemic learning losses in adolescents aged 15-17 in India. The authors matched each post-COVID adolescent, or an adolescent included in data collected after March 25th, 2020, with an observationally similar pre-COVID adolescent (surveyed before March 2020) and used propensity score matching and inverse propensity score weighted regression to estimate the effect of the pandemic on reading ability, schooling attainment and enrollment, and reasons for being out of school.

Their analysis demonstrated that girls in the post-COVID group were 2.6 percent less likely to possess the ability to read than those in the pre-COVID group. The two groups had no statistically significant disparity in school enrollment or years of schooling completed. Girls from the post-COVID group who were out of school reported the cost of education as the reason at six percent higher rates than girls from the pre-COVID group. The negative effect of the pandemic on girls’ reading ability was nearly twice as great among girls from rural areas than those from urban areas. In contrast, boys in both pre- and post-pandemic groups did not experience any reduction in reading ability and had an equal risk of being out of school.

Notably, the authors found that indicators of marginalization — including race, caste, and household income quintile — increased vulnerability to pandemic-related learning losses among girls, but not among boys. Girls in the poorest wealth quintile had a 3.1 to 3.8 percent reduction in reading ability, while boys across all wealth quintiles did not experience any significant changes in literacy as a result of the pandemic.

This study emphasizes the impact of pervasive systemic gender discrimination on girls’ education in India in the context of pandemic-related school closures. Remedial education programs, supported by India’s increased education budget, must target poor and marginalized communities to mitigate the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on learning losses among adolescent girls in India.

Read the full article, published in npj Science of Learning, here.