The gendered effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on adolescent literacy and schooling outcomes: New evidence from national survey data in India

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Article (peer-reviewed)

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The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted education delivery around the world, with school closures affecting over 1.6 billion students worldwide. In India, schools were closed for over 18 months, affecting 248 million students. This study estimates the effect of the pandemic on adolescent literacy and schooling outcomes in India. We used data from the National Family Health Survey (NFHS-5) which covered 636,699 households across all districts of India during June 2019 to April 2021. We considered 15-17 year old adolescents who were surveyed after March 2020 as the post-COVID group while those surveyed earlier were included in the pre-COVID group. We used propensity score matching and inverse propensity score weighted regression methods to account for differences in socioeconomic characteristics between the two groups. Rates of literacy (ability to read a complete sentence) were 1.5%-2% lower among post-COVID girls as compared with similar pre-COVID girls. Among post-COVID girls in the lowest wealth quintile, rates of literacy were 3.5% lower than similar pre-COVID girls. There was no loss in literacy among post-COVID girls in the highest wealth quintile. COVID-induced loss in literacy among girls was twice in rural areas as compared to urban areas, and substantially higher among socioeconomically disadvantages caste groups as compared with privileged caste groups. Post-COVID girls also had 0.05-0.1 lower years of schooling completed than similar pre-COVID girls but there was no difference in out-of-school rates. In a smaller subsample of 15-17 year old boys, the post-COVID group had 2-3% lower out-of-school rates and there was no difference in literacy or years of schooling completed as compared with matched pre-COVID boys. While markers of vulnerability such as residence, caste, and poverty further amplified risk of learning loss for girls, they did not have the same effect upon boys.






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