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Ruptured school trajectories: understanding the impact of COVID-19 on school dropout, socio-emotional and academic learning using a longitudinal design

Stephen Bayley, Prof Paul Ramchandani, Research for Equitable Access and Learning (REAL) Centre, Addis Ababa University, RISE Ethiopia

Why did we do this research?

The purpose of this research was to generate some quantitative data and evidence around the decline in children’s socio-emotional learning and their academic progress, during the period of the COVID-19 school closures.

The development of strong socio-emotional skills in childhood are important building blocks for lifelong health and happiness, which is why understanding and working to address the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is crucial. One way of doing this is by encouraging practitioners and policymakers to think more holistically about children’s learning and wellbeing.


How did we do it?

This study draws on data from over 2,000 pupils in Ethiopia captured in 2019 and 2021 to compare primary school children’s learning experiences before and after school closures.

We used adapted self-reporting scales used in similar contexts to measure Grade 4-6 pupils’ social skills and numeracy levels.


What did we find?

Our findings highlight that key aspects of children’s social and emotional development – such as their ability to make friends – not only stalled during Ethiopia’s school closures, but probably deteriorated.

Both this research and a second, linked study of around 6,000 Grade 1 to Grade 4 primary school children, collected before and after school closures, also found evidence of slowed academic progress. Children lost the equivalent of at least one third of an academic year in learning during lockdown. Learning losses also appear to have widened an already significant attainment gap between disadvantaged pupils and their peers, and there is some evidence that this may be linked  to a drop in social skills.

Based on these findings, this research emphasises the need to promote children’s socio-emotional learning in conjunction with, rather than in isolation from, their academic outcomes. Education systems need to work together to promote children’s holistic learning and incorporate socio-emotional skills into their educational experiences.


To find out more about this research, browse the resources linked below.

Research paper

Read the full open-access research paper here, published by Bristol University Press.