Disruption to schooling in light of the COVID-19 pandemic will cause a loss in skills that could result in a 1.5% drop in global economic output for the rest of the century, according to estimates from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).
For the United States, that will represent an economic loss of $15.3 trillion, the OECD said in a report published Tuesday, with the bill rising higher still if disruption to education extends into the next academic year.
"Learning loss will lead to skill loss, and the skills people have relate to their productivity," the report said, explaining the forecast drop in global GDP.
Governments around the world closed schools to curb the spread of COVID-19, in most cases for around 10 weeks, or one-third of a year of schooling.
One impact was to widen the gaps in educational opportunities between the rich and poor. Children with internet access, computers and supportive families fared better.
"Students from privileged backgrounds ... could find their way past closed school doors to alternative learning opportunities. Those from disadvantaged backgrounds often remained shut out when their schools shut down," the report said.
Even as schools in many countries reopen, big challenges remain for education, according to the OECD report. Schools must navigate how to reopen without causing a new spike in infections.
With economies contracting, there is a risk education budgets will shrink, the report said. And universities will have to reinvent themselves so they stay attractive to students even when they can no longer offer the traditional campus experience.