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Impact of COVID on Access and Learning
Posted By Waqas Imran and Sahar Saeed Idara-e-Taleem-o-Aghai (ITA)

Learning has become a crucial area of research around the globe. The COVID Pandemic (2020-21) has suppressed vital segments of society and economic growth. In this regard, Pakistan is not an exception (Crawfurd et al., 2021). The education sector faced tough challenges pre-COVID and during the pandemic. Since the first wave of the pandemic (February 2020), educational institutions have been unable to hold regular classes in 2021. Primary and secondary level students are currently facing recurring school closures and often remain physically disconnected from their institutions. Students are learning mostly from home, working remotely on “learning modules from k-12 and life skills” through digital resources and some home support. Remote learning is one of the teaching modes off-campus students use to catch up on lessons. However, it is not proven to be universally beneficial, especially where low ICT proficiency prevails. Remote teaching and the lack of in-class teaching have brought about student-teacher communication gaps. As such, this has demotivated children of school-going age and led to Learning Losses which, in turn, has accelerated socioeconomic inequalities where access to education and children’s learning is concerned. (Viamo & UNICEF Pakistan 2021; Conto, et. al., 2021; Negruho, et. al., 2021).

The COVID-19 ASER Survey on the 2021 Learning Losses, which covered 16 major Pakistan districts, offers a glimpse into this situation. While it covered all the above concerns, the survey is also geared towards capturing the difficulties children aged 5-16 are facing in their learning; the type of home support, if any, they are receiving towards their learning; how connected they are to their teachers and how they spend their out of study time during the pandemic.

This article aims to highlight the Learning Losses attributed to the pandemic in different socioeconomic strata. We have used ASER 2019 as pre-COVID and COVID-19 ASER 2021 as post-COVID periods (ASER Pakistan, 2021 and 2019). It highlights the children left behind and those affected by COVID, whose access and learning needs were impacted.

Access post-COVID

It is clear from the following illustration that post-COVID, at almost 4%, the Net Enrollment Rates (NER) depreciated, especially for secondary education groups of school-going age.

Note: Change= NER post-COVID – NER pre-COVID. As per UNESCO definition, NER is defined as the Enrolment of the official age group for a given level of education expressed as a percentage of the population in that age group ((UNESCO 2014).

Children Left Behind

By comparison, estimates indicate that the number of out of school female children outstrips that of male children. Subsequently, female children in Pakistan trail behind their male counterparts.

Out of school children are not currently enrolled in any type of educational institution, and that group comprises those who have never been to school as well as dropouts. We observe that the figure spiked the higher the education level post-COVID, with the most vulnerable group being secondary level children. Nearly, 26% of them dropped out of school pre-COVID, and the figure rose to 30% post-COVID.

Reading Proficiency Levels

Through the ASER Pakistan 2021 tool, reading is assessed across five main levels:

1) Beginner: Where the child is unable to recognise four letters of Urdu.

2) Letters: Where the child can correctly read four letters.

3) Words: The child can correctly pronounce four common words of Urdu.

4) Sentence: The child can correctly read four sentences in Urdu.

5) Story: The child can read a whole story with the correct pronunciation.

Learning Losses

We are looking into how reading levels increased before and after COVID. In this regard, we have adopted a method of evaluating Learning Losses. The formula used to evaluate learning takes into account the children’s reading levels before the pandemic as a basis. It is presented as the percentage of children who have gained (positive value) or lost (negative) reading proficiency during COVID.

KEY: “-∞” (negative infinity) represents the Learning Losses while “∞” (positive infinity) indicates the Learning Gains. This formula can be interpreted as the rate of change in learning post-COVID compared to pre-COVID.

Children by Gender

While examining Learning Losses from reading levels by gender, we can see a clear disparity between male versus female learners. Learning Losses are particularly apparent for male children. Of the male children assessed, 47% could correctly read a sentence or story before COVID. This percentage drops sharply to 39% during COVID with almost 18% Learning Losses in reading attributed to COVID.

Household Economic Status

Economic Learning vulnerabilities are represented by the probability of children (out of all the children assessed) who attain sentence or story level proficiency with respect to their household wealth economy.

It is clear from the above illustration that as soon as the household economic status improves, the probability of reaching sentence or story level improves. However, a wider gap of almost 5% decrease in learning is evident between the two assessment periods, especially for children from the poorest households. For children from the poorest households, this has accelerated Learning Losses by 54% post-COVID compared to pre-COVID. These vulnerabilities are significantly lower for children from the richest households.

Reading Levels by Learning Support

The stacked graph reflects that reaching the highest level in reading is supported mostly by school resources. In other words, we observe that 72% of the children who receive learning support from school resources, 62% of the children supported by media/digital/tuition resources and roughly 38% of the children supported by relatives (family or friends) can read a sentence or story. Schools, coupled with media/digital/private tuition, provide a systematic way of learning for children. As such, sentence or story levels are mainly attained by children who adopt these two measures. Out of all the children reached by schools, school resources have improved nearly 3/4 of these children’s reading.

Our analysis shows evidence of a correlation between out-of-school children and Learning Losses, which is determined by socioeconomic subgroups. Household Economy and gender are major factors where being out-of-school and Learning Losses are identified. The same was observed by Carwfurd et al., (2021). The children who are learning from home utilise different learning resources. That being the case, school resources play an important role in this case, although these reached very few school going children.


  1. The children left behind are characterised by vulnerable conditions due to COVID. There is the need to focus more on vulnerable subgroups, especially the poorest households with female children of school-going age.
  2. School authorities need to provide more learning support to children during COVID restrictions. In this regard, different and appropriate teaching strategies with respect to education levels would help children left behind to meet learning targets.
  3. A large-scale, nationwide study focusing on the drivers of Learning Losses due to COVID would help identify areas of intervention to meet access and learning targets.



It was first published by PAL Network under the 2021 Conference series. You can access it also at:


ASER Pakistan. (2019). “Annual Status of Education Report: ASER Pakistan 2019” National. Lahore, Pakistan. Available at:

Conto, C. A., Akseer, S., Dreesen, T., Kamei, A., Mizunoya, S., & Rigole, A. (2021). “Potential effects of COVID-19 school closures on foundational skills and Country responses for mitigating learning loss. “International Journal of Educational Development,” 87, 102434.a

Crawfurd, L., Hares, S., & Minardi, A.L. (2021). “New Data on Learning Losses in Pakistan.” Center for Global Development. Available at

ITA & UNICEF (2021). “Measuring The Impact of Covid-19 on Education in Pakistan.” ASER Pakistan Secretariat, Idara-e-Taleem-o-Aagahi (ITA), Lahore, Pakistan. Available at:

Nugroho, D., Jeon, Y., Kamei, A., & Boo, F. L. (2021). “It’s Not Too Late to Act on Early Learning: Understanding and recovering from the impact of pre-primary education closures during COVID-19.”

UNESCO (2014). “Teaching and Learning: Achieving Quality for All”; EFA Global Monitoring Report, 2013-2014. Glossary. Paris: UNESCO. Available at:

Viamo & UNICEF Pakistan (2021). “Brief on Learning Continuity Amidst COVID-19 School Closures in Pakistan”. Country profile and COVID-19 impacts on schools. United Nations Children’s Fund. Available at:

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of ASER Pakistan.
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