Compensating for Academic Loss: Online Learning and Student Performance during the COVID-19 Pandemic

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Available from: 
July 2020
Paper author(s): 
Andrew E. Clark
Huifu Nong
Hongjia Zhu
Rong Zhu
Topic: 
Education - Health
Year: 
2020

The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic has led to widespread school shutdowns, and many schools have opted for education using online learning platforms. Using administrative data from three middle schools in China, this paper estimates the causal effects of online learning on student performance. Using the difference-in-differences approach, we show that online education improves students’ academic achievement by 0.22 of a standard deviation, relative to those who stopped receiving learning support from their school during the COVID-19 lockdown. All else equal, students from a school having access to recorded online lessons delivered by external higher-quality teachers have achieved more progress in academic outcomes than those accessing lessons recorded by teachers in their own school. We find no evidence that the educational benefits of distance learning differ for rural and urban students. However, there is more progress in the academic achievement of students using a computer for online education than that of those using a smartphone. Last, low achievers benefit the most from online learning while there is no significant impact for top students. Our findings have important policy implications for educational practices when lockdown measures are implemented during a pandemic.

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