Harvard Graduate School of Education professor Fernando M. Reimers told a Congressional subcommittee last week that Covid-19 has “exacerbated inequalities” in Latin America by reversing decades of improvements in public education.
Reimers, who leads Harvard’s Global Education Innovation Initiative, testified before a U.S. House subcommittee on Latin America. He told the committee that two principal factors affected peoples’ experience of the pandemic: social class and nationality.
“The choices that nations made — and not just nations, but what state you’re in, and so on — made a huge difference,” Reimers said in an interview.
While learning suffered across the board during the pandemic, Reimers said poorer children were affected the most.
“If you don’t learn for a year, and your family’s poor, and now you’re helping them with survival, education becomes a luxury,” he said.
The pandemic-spurred inequities were particularly stark in Latin America, where the suspension of in-person activities stretched longer than any other world region, he wrote in written testimony submitted to the subcommittee.
Reimers began studying Covid-19’s impact on education in March 2020 after speaking with a colleague at the Harvard School of Public Health and realizing the disease’s potential to become the “most serious crisis in the history of public education,” he said.
The move to virtual instruction disproportionately harmed poorer children, many of whom had had limited access to necessary technologies, he said.
“Many governments made decisions that were not really made with the poorest children in mind when they thought about how to continue to educate,” he said.
Reimers also lauded effective collaborations between governments and businesses, which he said occurred at an “unprecedented rate.”
“For a brief period, there was this sense [that] we all thought we could die,” he said. “We realized we were in this together and that there were goals bigger than ourselves — our narrow interests, the bottom line of our companies — that made it worth our while to collaborate.”
Over the past 25 years, Latin America has invested more on education as a share of government expenditure and GDP than any other region in the world. However, much of the progress was erased during the pandemic, Reimers said.
“Two decades of progress were wiped out,” he said, “but I have to emphasize it was not wiped out by the virus. They were wiped out by a combination of the virus, poor leadership, and these other vulnerabilities that compounded the impact of the pandemic.”