COVID-19 and Brain Drain

COVID-19 has changed the daily lives of millions of families, bringing brand new challenges from every direction. In addition to battling for toilet paper, wandering the house armed with Lysol, and juggling conference calls while children wreak havoc in the next room, parents must also worry about how COVID-19 might affect their children’s education.

Every summer, we write about the dangers of summer brain drain. Brain drain refers to the learning loss that students experience when they are out of school for an extended length of time—like summer…or during a pandemic.

Although there obviously isn’t research (yet) on the academic impacts of widespread school closures like this one, there is plenty of research to suggest that any sort of school closure causes students to fall behind:

“Missing 10 days of math class in middle or high school led to lower test scores and grades, one recent paper found, while reducing high school graduation by 6 percentage points and college enrollment by 5 points.

Mass school closings are different than individual absences, but the evidence is concerning here, too.

A 2019 study took advantage of the fact that teachers’ strikes were common in Argentina in the 1980s and 1990s — so common that the average student missed nearly 90 school days in the early and middle grades.

That time without school lowered students’ chances of earning a high school diploma or a college degree, compared to students in parts of the country less affected by strikes….

[T]here is clear evidence that most students learn less during the summer, even if test-score gaps don’t necessarily widen much.

All in all, the weight of the research is consistent with common sense: missed school is going to mean missed learning.”

The good news is that schools have taken amazing steps to try to keep students learning throughout this closure. Most schools have instituted some form of digital learning, ensuring that students still engage academically from day to day.

Although the dedication and responsiveness of teachers implementing online learning is admirable, a couple of hours per day in front of a computer screen simply isn’t a one-to-one replacement for a full school day.

What Can Parents Do?

Here are some steps that parents can take to help ensure that their children do not lose vital academic skills during the COVID-19 school closures:

Create a schedule

Establish clear windows of time dedicated to learning. Students can be tempted to rush through their daily assignments to get schoolwork over with, but this undermines the whole point of digital learning days—actually learning. Dedicated learning time removes some of the temptation to rush through work.

Provide additional academic support

Even when teachers make themselves available, students are less likely to reach out for support in a digital setting than in the normal school setting. As a result, it’s more important than ever to get involved in your children’s schoolwork. If you find it tough to offer solid academic support—after all, not many people are still great with high school algebra—there are lots of other options. Your local C2 center can also provide online tutoring; in-person sessions will resume as it is safe to do so.

Limit entertainment screen time

Obviously screen time spent learning is necessary, but we can and should limit the amount of time our children spend playing video games and watching movies—even if being cooped up together in the same house makes that challenging.

Read together

Start a family book club, story time, or other reading activity. One of the best brain-building activities is to read, so any way you can encourage reading while kids are out of school is a win.

Encourage learning outside of schoolwork

There are tons of options for students to explore, from learning to code to picking up a second language to exploring a new hobby.

The brain is like a muscle: use it or lose it. Make sure your kids put those brains to good use so that they come out of these school closures even smarter than before!