The Covid generation is less smart as a result of lockdowns at the height of the pandemic, according to a new study.
And researchers found no evidence that students have been able to make up the gap since schools started to fully re-open.
An entire generation of students had their education disrupted during the pandemic, with simulations predicting a learning loss equivalent to between 0.3 and 1.1 school years and a global learning loss of $10 trillion.
In the U.S., national average math scores recorded their largest ever fall for fourth and eighth graders, according to the latest Nation’s Report Card.
Now researchers have found that the deficit also extends to students’ intelligence, according to a study published in the journal PLOS ONE, published by the Public Library of Science.
IQ tests carried out on students affected by Covid lockdowns found their scores were significantly lower than comparable students in previous generations, with a difference of 7.62 IQ points between students who took the test in 2020 and those who did it in 2002.
The difference between the 2020 cohort and students who took the test in 2012 was slightly smaller, although still large, at 6.54 points.
“The difference in test scores was remarkably large,” say the report’s authors. “It may be the case that the student population was hit particularly hard by the pandemic, having to deal with both the disruption of regular schooling and the other side effects of the pandemic, such as stress, anxiety and social isolation.”
Testing the students again a year later, after schools had fully reopened, found no sign they were catching up.
Previous studies have highlighted the link between education and the development of cognitive ability and intelligence, with each year of education adding between 1 and 10.8 points to IQ.
“In light of the pandemic, the findings on the importance of schooling for intelligence are troubling with regard to the global generation of students affected by prolonged school closures and irregular school attendance,” researchers write.
The actual effect of the pandemic is difficult to quantify, they add, as remote education was not the same as a complete absence from school.
“However, a lower quality of schooling by remote schooling for which teachers were not prepared in addition with a reduced time investment in education over many months may still be very noticeable in intelligence test results,” they write.
The tests were taken by students in grades seven, eight and nine in grammar schools in Germany in 2020, six months after the beginning of lockdown and then again 10 months later.
Their results were then compared with students who took the tests at the same schools in 2012, and comparable students who also completed the tests in 2002.
The report’s authors, based at the University of Trier and Chemnitz University of Technology in Germany, say the “reverse Flynn” effect, a decrease in IQ scores across generations observed in some countries, has not yet been observed in Germany and is unlikely to account for the decline.
But there is an opportunity for schools to boost students’ intelligence by targeted interventions, the authors suggest.
“As interventions aimed at the improvement of academic achievement also affect intelligence, the decline in intelligence could be recovered if targeted efforts are made to compensate for the deficit in academic achievement that has occurred,” they write.
This could involve offering academically challenging lessons or supplementary programs in the evenings and school vacations, they add.