When schools around the world closed during the Covid-19 pandemic, it was not known for how long they’d remain closed nor, especially, what impact it might have on children’s education. We now have a fair idea of the impact, known as learning poverty, according to a World Bank study. Learning poverty describes the number of children who cannot read and understand a simple text by age 10. The situation was already alarming in 2019 before the pandemic struck. That year learning poverty rate was estimated at 53 per cent in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs). It became worse with the school closures and disruptions caused by the pandemic, with the learning poverty estimated to have grown to 70 per cent currently. In Sub-Saharan Africa, the learning crisis was already quite perturbing, with an estimated 86 per cent of children unable to read a simple sentence by age 10. This is quite a serious situation. The World Bank’s findings are reminding us that, because universal foundational skills are essential to the flourishing of individuals and societies, this widespread learning poverty threatens to undermine the future of today’s children and the economic prospects of their countries. But the fact that the report articulates the depth of the crisis is to acknowledge that something must be done about it. Last week, education policymakers from more than 100 countries met in Paris, France, to discuss how to salvage the situation and strengthen our education systems. The meeting was a preparatory gathering to lay the groundwork for the Transforming Education Summit slated for September this year in New York alongside the annual United Nations General Assembly. The summit aims to secure political commitment from heads of state to recover learning losses brought about by the pandemic. It also seeks to re-imagine the future of education and revitalise efforts to achieve UN Sustainable Development Goal 4. The goal calls for investing in education to help millions move up the socioeconomic ladder. One might wonder why investing and improving literacy was not already obvious to political leadership, given no country in the world does not have a government ministry dedicated to education. But it turns out that many government officials are not quite aware of the crucial role of literacy as an education priority. A recent survey of more than 900 policymakers from 35 low- and middle-income countries finds that most don’t see basic literacy as the core goal of education systems. The survey also reveals that most of the polled policymakers thought that the share of pupils able to read in their country is much more than is the case. Another issue not always on the radar is how boys are at a greater risk of falling behind girls in education. A new report by the UN education and science agency UNESCO finds that 10-year-old boys fare worse than girls in mastering reading skills and adolescent boys continue to fall behind girls in reading skills at the secondary level. Boys are not only at greater risk than girls of repeating grades but failing to complete different education levels and having poorer learning outcomes in school. The report finds that, where previously boys’ disadvantage seemed most notable in high- or upper-middle-income contexts at the beginning of the millennium, this has shifted and now includes several low- and lower-middle-income countries. Secondary education is where boys’ disadvantage is most prevalent. These inequalities could only get worse, exacerbated by another World Bank finding that investment in education has dwindled. It finds that two-thirds of LMICs including many Sub-Saharan countries have cut education spending since the beginning of the pandemic, while foreign aid to education has flattened. As the Bank predictably concludes, concerted action against learning poverty is urgently needed now, with every society prioritising the welfare of today’s children and youth. Policymakers, schools, teachers, and families will need better strategies, bolstered by additional financing and support, to recover and accelerate learning, especially for those most harmed by the school closures. The stagnation of global progress since 2015 shows that education systems were already failing in reducing learning poverty. To provide opportunity for all children, this has to change—and change will require both political and technical advances that ensure effective approaches for promoting foundational learning reach all children and youth.