A new report noted that students’ 2021 performances in sixth grade declined by three per cent for reading and by 10.7 per cent for mathematics compared with the 2016 averages.

The Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport – together with the Economic Research Institute for ASEAN and East Asia (ERIA) – conducted the regional research on “Student Learning Loss in Reading and Mathematics at Primary School during the Covid-19 Pandemic in ASEAN”.

The study interviewed students and teachers from three countries, Cambodia, Thailand and Laos, and compared the data with that of many other countries.

The study compared data from the 2016 pre-pandemic national assessments with date from the 2021 assessments, which were conducted during the pandemic.

“This analysis determined that Cambodian students’ performance in sixth grade declined by three per cent in reading and 10.7 per cent in mathematics. Singaporean students also experienced learning loss in both subjects,” it said.

“Due to limited access to assessment data, the study was unable to confirm if learning losses were observed in all ASEAN nations, but based on the measurable results from Cambodia and Singapore, it was likely that school closures might have negatively impacted students’ learning outcomes,” it added.

The results of the research were publically released on March 29, with the participation of officials from the education ministry, representatives of nine provincial education departments and nearly 100 additional stakeholders.

Minister of Education, Youth and Sport Hang Chuon Naron said the closure of schools globally during the pandemic has led to a serious disruption of education, negatively affecting the learning outcomes of millions of students around the world.

He added that to ensure the continuity of teaching and learning, many countries shifted learning modes from physical to virtual ones.

“Due to a lack of digital literacy, digital devices, and limited internet connectivity, the new learning mode emerged as a challenge to both students and teachers,” he acknowledged.

He explained that consequently, students around the world – particularly in developing countries – experienced learning losses. To address this, the education ministry, in collaboration with the ASEAN Secretariat and UNICEF EAPRO, developed the regional “Reopen, Recover and Resilience in Education Systems in 2022”, while Cambodia was ASEAN chair.

“The newly-released study will provide evidence and inputs to all ASEAN member states on effective strategies and interventions regarding student learning losses, hopefully improving the quality of learning during the recovery stage,” he concluded.

Hidetoshi Nishimura, president of the Economic Research Institute for ASEAN and East Asia (ERIA) said that in the ASEAN context, many students were affected by school closures, unconducive learning environments and low digital literacy during the Covid-19 pandemic.

He added that this resulted in significant learning loss among the majority of early grades and other vulnerable groups of students, as could be seen in the results of the study.

“The study was discussed at the Twelfth ASEAN Education Ministers Meeting (12th ASED) held in Hanoi, Vietnam, last October. The attendees commended Cambodia, with support from ERIA, for the having the initiative to conduct this timely research,” he said.

“The 12th ASED suggested that the results of the study which will eventually provide strategic guidance to address learning crises and the need for human resource development in ASEAN. More importantly, the findings and recommendations of the study will help the ASEAN member states to address students’ learning loss, while promoting inclusion and equity principles,” he added.

In the case of Singapore, according to the Education Statistics Digest 2021, the overall score of the Primary School Leaving Exam (PSLE) exhibited that Singaporean students experienced learning loss in both reading and mathematics. Comparing the PSLE scores between the two academic years before and during the pandemic showed a small decline in students’ performance. The Mathematics average decreased by 0.1 per cent and the reading average was 0.2 per cent lower than that of 2019.

The PSLE results of both reading and mathematics revealed that Singaporean sixth graders had undergone learning loss of little magnitude, but based on the evidence of learning loss from the cases of Cambodia and Singapore, school closures might have negatively impacted students’ learning outcome and respectively contributed to learning loss.