India’s GDP to take a big hit due to pandemic-linked learning losses for students: ADB study

The decline would be the highest among those of South Asian countries, say analysts

May 27, 2022 02:20 am | Updated 02:20 am IST - NEW DELHI

Students sharing smartphones after walking for 5 km from Rangamati village in Odisha to get an Internet signal.

Students sharing smartphones after walking for 5 km from Rangamati village in Odisha to get an Internet signal. | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

The gross domestic product (GDP) of India, which is among the countries with the longest school closures during the COVID-19 pandemic, would see the highest decline in South Asia due to learning losses for the young, a new working paper published by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) has reckoned.

Starting with a $10.5 billion dent in 2023, the country’s economy could take a nearly $99 billion hit by 2030, translating into a 3.19% reduction in GDP from the baseline growth trends, according to the paper on ‘Potential Economic Impact of COVID-19 related School Closures’.

India may thus account for over 10% of the global GDP decline of $943 billion estimated by the ADB on account of earning losses in 2030, with jobs for skilled labour expected to decline by 1%, and unskilled labour by 2% that year.

“India has notable enrolment in secondary education and among students in rural areas. Pandemic-induced school closures have also been more extensive there,” the paper noted.

Economies with a significant population of schoolchildren and college-going youth in rural areas and in the poorest and second wealth quintile — have been worst-hit as they lack access to stable Internet connection needed to study online.

Learning and earning losses are significant because a notable portion of the impacted population will migrate to the unskilled labour force, the paper said. A large part of India’s work force is constituted by unskilled labour — 408.4 million as per the ADB paper’s estimates, compared to 72.65 million skilled workers.

“In terms of absolute change, India experiences the highest GDP decline in South Asia, at about $98.84 billion in 2030. In percentage terms, its GDP decreases by 0.34% in 2023, 1.36% in 2026, and 3.19% in 2030,” the paper said.

“School closures lead to declines in global GDP and employment. Moreover, the losses in global GDP and employment increase over time. Declines in global GDP amount to 0.19% in 2024, 0.64% in 2028, and 1.11% in 2030,” concluded the paper co-authored by Spencer Cohen, Sumathi Chakravarthy, Sindhu Bharathi, Badri Narayanan and Cyn-Young Park.

India has the highest number of children enrolled in primary and secondary education among the Asian economies covered in the paper, at 255.74 million. The number of students in tertiary education were second only to China at 36.39 million, as per January 2022 data used for the research.

While mooting greater investments in education and skills with a focus on narrowing the digital divide, the paper’s authors have said the most immediate challenge for governments is to help students recover “lost opportunities” by conducting assessments among impacted children.

“It is important to identify the learning gap and specific learning needs of individuals. Effective learning programs should be devised to offer appropriate support such as tutoring or special classes and help them to bridge the learning gap,” it said.

“Governments need to direct adequate funding and resources to young populations most affected by closures, such as those from the poor, rural and socially disadvantaged groups. It is important to keep school-age children in education as much as possible by providing financial support and incentives, while giving additional support for skills training to youth already out of school,” it added.

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