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.


After more than a year of COVID-19 crisis and the school closures that followed all around the world, the concerns about lower learning growth and exacerbated inequalities 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 growth and pre-existing inequalities. We draw on a dataset that includes around 330,000 Dutch primary school students from about 1,600 schools, with standardized test scores for reading, spelling and mathematics, as well as rich (family) background information of the students. The results show a lower learning growth over a full year for all three domains, varying from 0.06 standard deviations for spelling to 0.12 for maths and 0.17 standard deviations for reading. Furthermore, we find that the lower learning growth is (much) larger for vulnerable students with a low socioeconomic background. This implies that pre-existing inequalities between students from different backgrounds have increased. These results are quite alarming and suggest that distance learning could not compensate for classroom teaching, although it prevented some damage that would have occurred if students had not enjoyed any formal education at all.

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

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

For the full preprint of the paper, see here: