Deserted classroom 2021
Deserted classroom 2021

Learning Poverty

As data is gathered on the effects of the pandemic worldwide, the stark truth of its impact on the poorest members of society is revealed.

Covid-19 has devastated the poorest lives as economies locked down and jobs providing the most menial income were lost. The pandemic will reverse years of progress on poverty relief and gender equality. Children from the poorest communities have borne the largest losses. Starvation has forced the hungry and desperate urban poor to cope in unthinkable ways, scavenging on the roadside or in markets for scraps or leftover goods.

The loss of learning (or learning poverty) for the poorest children has been one of the biggest burdens. State schools in our countries of operation were closed, locked and deserted for nearly two years with an average of 250 days schooling lost over the period. Countries like Brazil, Guatemala and the Philippines have been the most affected.


Class activities for nursery children, Guatemala

Virtual lessons are not an option for the poorest

The poorest families have little access to internet for remote learning and so their children have been deprived of vital education.

Children from nursery age upwards have been affected. The youngest have been deprived of the early stimulation and learning foundation needed for good educational (and social) development.[1] Older children have missed vital skill acquisition. Many children have forgotten what they learnt previously and many have fallen out of the prospect of learning into crime or forced early marriage.

The effects of learning poverty

This prolonged interruption to education, called ‘learning poverty’[2], has been ruinous for millions of the poorest children. Consequently, demand for places at the Sisters of Mary schools which remained open throughout, has never been higher. As the Sisters have restarted their community work in these regions, they are meeting thousands of these children who are severely affected. Many children are facing starvation and without the skills needed to find work, they face a bleak future.

[1] Report from Sr Melinda, Sisters of Mary Elementary and Day-Care, Sao Paulo, Brazil (16 June 2022)


Students in class being instructed by a teacher

Lost Learning

With so little schooling for nearly two years, the new boys and girls coming into our care through late 2021 and into 2022 need special support. They do not have basic literacy and numeracy skills. Most children have poor understanding and communication skills, and many only speak their local dialect rather than their national language. They are desperately in need of good quality education to help them catch up, address the lost learning and prepare them for a brighter future.

Social Isolation affecting social skills

Another effect the Sisters have noted is that children coming into nursery do not know how to play. This is a result of isolation from peers, the lack of social contact during the pandemic, which would normally develop social and communication skills. This includes both verbal and non-verbal social cues.

How we provide additional support

It is our challenge to provide the teaching support needed by these children. At the Sisters of Mary schools, the secondary age children are now having additional lessons and help with communication. In the day-care centres, the youngsters are receiving 1:1 support to help with early learning, relationship building, and communication skills.

With the support of our friends and donors we can meet the additional needs of these children now in our care at school, provide the extra support needed to ensure their learning recovery and get them back on track for a poverty free future.