Inequality and learning loss

A full year COVID-19-crisis with interrupted learning and two school closures: The effects on learning gains and inequality in primary education

Carla Haelermansξψ*, Bas Aartsξ, Henry Abbinkξ, Madelon Jacobsξ,

Lynn van Vugtξ , Sanne van Wettenξ and Rolf van der Veldenξψ

ξ Research Centre for Education and the Labour Market (ROA), School of Business and Economics, Maastricht University, the Netherlands

ψ Netherlands Initiative for Education Research (NRO), the Netherlands

* Corresponding author: Carla Haelermans,,

PO Box 616, 6200 MD Maastricht, the Netherlands.

Version 1 June 2021

Preliminary Version - Please do not quote or distribute without corresponding author consent.


After more than one year of COVID-19-crisis and the school closures that followed, the concerns about learning loss and inequality are larger than ever. In this paper we use unique data to analyse how one full year of COVID-19-crisis in Dutch primary education has affected learning gains and inequalities. We use a large dataset that includes around 450 000 Dutch primary students from about 1600 schools, with standardized test scores for reading, spelling and math, as well as rich (social) background information on the students. The results show learning loss over a full year for all three domains, varying from 0.08 standard deviations for spelling to 0.14 for math and 0.17 standard deviations for reading. Furthermore, we find that learning losses are (much) larger for children with low parental socioeconomic status, for children from one-parent-household, and for children with many siblings. This implies that the already existing inequalities between students from different backgrounds has increased. These results are quite alarming and suggest that although distance learning may have prevented further damage, it could not compensate for classroom teaching.

JEL-Classification – I20, I21, I24, I26, C90.

Key wordsSchool Closures; COVID-19-Crisis; Learning Loss; Inequality; Socio-Economic Status (SES); Family Situation; Primary Education.

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