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Education expenditure, enrolment dynamics and the impact of COVID-19 on learning in Jordan

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World Bank
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Objectives and Introduction

This piece is part of a set of five fast tracked and interrelated policy notes covering key issues in the current Jordanian macroeconomic and human capital landscape. The education policy note reviews the initial reaction of the Ministry of Education (MOE) to the COVID-19 pandemic, some key considerations for future policy formulation and simulation results summarizing the potential impact that the pandemic can have on learning. Specifically, the note leverages Public Expenditure Reviews (PER) conducted by the World Bank in 2016, DFID in 2020 and the International Monetary Fund’s paper on social spending for inclusive growth by focusing on a subset of data points pertinent to policymakers for immediate policy consideration. This policy note is divided into two parts: part I explores the utilization of education services by socioeconomic groups, refugee status and gender, including access to technology and online resources before the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic. This is intended to pinpoint key differences in household spending, access to education services and technologies to better understand which sub-groups are under heightened risk during school closures. Part II presents simulation results forecasting the negative impact of COVID-19 school closures on learning and future earnings. The simulation results are based on various assumptions and present multiple scenarios accounting for the expected duration of school closures and the government’s response.

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced global school closures leaving over 103 million students out of education systems in Middle East and North Africa, including 2.4 million learners in Jordan. The Government of Jordan (GOJ) promptly responded to the initial outbreak by mandating a national lockdown, including closure of all education institutions. To minimize learning disruptions, the Ministry of Education (MOE) sought to leverage various distance learning tools, the most prominent of which – Darsak – an online education platform developed and managed by the private sector, was made available for all 12 school grades. Thus, MOE was able to ensure that lessons, exercises and guidance was made available to students during school hours covering all essential subjects for grades 1 through 12. In addition, the country’s television sports channel was repurposed to broadcast educational material tailored to students preparing for the tawjihi, the high-stakes examination at the end of upper secondary. The MOE also supported teaching staff by continuously rolling out new interventions to make it easier to transition to distance learning: a new platform for teacher training launched in May 2020 offers courses on distance learning tools, blended learning, and educational technology. Finally, after the initial shock subsided, the MOE developed the Education during Emergency Plan 2020/22 (EDEP), which lays out the short- to medium-term education response to the COVID-19 pandemic in three phases:

(a) Response Phase (March-May 2020) – corresponds to the swift response described above.

(b) Recovery/Remedial Phase (June-August 2020) – Since the distance education provided will likely leave learning gaps for those who were able to access it, and even larger gaps for students from vulnerable and disadvantaged backgrounds (including Syrian refugees) who could not access TV or the internet, MOE plans to provide a month-long catch-up program prior to the beginning of the new school year in September 2020. In addition, schools will be preparing during this phase for the return of students, including ensuring minimum required health and safety measures.

(c) Sustainability Phase (September 2020-September 2022) – Having made the swift leap to distance education, the MOE sees the benefits of maintaining the gains made in its ability to provide distance education by integrating distance education better into traditional classroom instruction. In other words, the education system in Jordan will not only recover but “build back better” during this phase, with MOE exploring opportunities to leverage high-quality distance learning content as a complementary resource for students during regular times and piloting blended learning modalities.

MOE’s EDEP is fully aligned with the international direction on preparing for and sustaining safe school reopening. In April 2020, UNESCO, UNICEF, the World Food Programme (WFP) and the World Bank jointly published the Framework for Reopening Schools, which lays out a sequencing of activities leading up to the gradual return of students to school. This framework aims to inform the decision-making process on when to reopen schools, support national preparations, and guide the implementation process, as part of the overall public health and education planning processes. The framework recognizes that disruptions to instructional time in the classroom can have a severe impact on a child’s ability to learn. The longer marginalized children are out of school, the less likely they are to return. Prolonged closures disrupt essential school-based services such as school feeding and psychosocial support, and can cause stress and anxiety due to the loss of peer interaction and disrupted routines. These negative impacts will be significantly higher for marginalized children, refugees, and children with disabilities. The framework outlines three phases in terms of how to go about reopening schools, each with a set of key activities (see Figure 1).

Despite the strong reaction by the MOE, the risk of a protracted pandemic on lost learning and nationwide inequality remains high. The Syrian refugee crisis continues for a ninth consecutive year, with over 230,000 registered school-age children currently living between host communities and refugee camps at huge risk of being left behind, in addition to a commensurate large number of undocumented refugees. Children in low socioeconomic status families and temporary homes, already at great educational inequality and learning poverty risk, are now increasingly vulnerable. Although mitigating measures have been put in place, such as extended electricity hours at camps and data free access to the MOE website, significantly more attention needs to be paid to ensure that the digital divide does not lead to an even larger learning divide. Earlier outbreaks such as the Ebola crisis showed that closures can lead to learning losses that disproportionately impact vulnerable populations, and highlighted the importance of effectively using distance learning tools while promoting equitable access to minimize the impact of disruptions. This policy note is divided into two parts: part I explores the utilization of education services by socioeconomic groups, refugee status and gender, including access to technology and online resources before the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic; part II presents simulation results forecasting the loss of learning and potential labor market outcomes, and the effect on mean scores. The simulation results are based on various assumptions are present multiple scenarios accounting for the expected duration of school closures and the government’s response.

This note should be read in light of two important analytical pieces. The DFID PER highlights several key statistics that present the landscape of public and private education in Jordan. Real education expenditure has remained flat between 2013 and 2019, while the number of students has increased from 1.1 million to 1.4 million, indicating that real per pupil expenditures has dropped significantly in that period (DFID 2020). The composition of spending has remained predominantly on worker compensation at around 93 percent of current spending, while the 2013-2019 period is characterized by discrepancies between actual and budgeted capital expenditures, ranging between 65 and 115 percent compliance. During this period, learning outcomes captured by the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) in 2018 manifest tangible improvements in reading, science and math. Despite this being only a single data point, it snaps a trend of either stagnation or decline since the adoption of PISA in Jordan.

Increasing public social spending per capita (education, health and social transfers) by 10 percent could close the Human Development Index gap by 20-65 percent. The International Monetary Fund’s “social spending for inclusive growth” report highlights the need to generate fiscal space that directly addresses the equity gap in social outcomes, while focusing on streamlining the efficient use of resources across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region (IMF 2020). Jordan, like the majority of countries in the region, lags behind in socioeconomic outcomes and the relative efficiency of spending on social programs, with significant gains to be realized with targeted programs.