Document Type



Institute for Human Development


Ethiopian schools were closed for nearly 40 weeks as a measure to control the COVID-19 pandemic. The objective of the study was to evaluate the role of COVID-19 pandemic’s restrictive measures on cognition and behavioral difficulties of schoolchildren in Arba Minch Health and Demographic Surveillance Site. Two cross-sectional surveys were conducted in November 2019 (pre-COVID-19-lockdown) and November 2020 (post-COVID-19 lockdown). Data were collected both at the school and homes of the children. Cognitive development of the children was assessed using digit span, Raven’s coloured progressive matrices (RCPM) and Visual search using cancellation task. Behavioral difficulties score of the children was assessed using Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire. Analysis of covariance (ANCOVA) was used to compare between the cognition outcomes and behavioral difficulties score pre- and post-COVID-19-lockdown. In a sub-group of children who provided data in both surveys, the difference in cognitive and behavioral outcomes was tested using a mixed effect model. Compared to the pre-COVID-19-lockdown, schoolchildren postCOVID-19-lockdown scored lower in the standardized performance index for the visual search task, which measures attention (0.27 SD, 95% confidence intervals (95%CI): −0.40, −0.13). However, they scored higher by 0.26 SD (95%CI: 0.13, 0.40) and 0.36 SD (95%CI: 0.22, 0.49) in digit span and RCPM, respectively, measuring working memory and non-verbal intelligence. There was no significant difference in total difficulties score between preand post-COVID-19-lockdown (0.01 SD, 95%CI: -0.12, 0.15). The subgroup analysis showed a significant increase in digit span among children post-COVID-19-lockdown while the other domains did not show a significant change. Factors contributing to the improvement of children’s cognitive domains while away from the school environment should be explored and utilized to enhance child development. This study was registered at as NCT04137354 on October 14, 2019.

Publication (Name of Journal)

PLOS Glob Public Health


Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International License.