THE basic education sector has been hit so incredibly hard by COVID-19 that it has reversed the gains in education made over the past 20 years, casting a critical light on everything from equity issues to ed tech to school financing, according to Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga.
Motshekga held a media briefing to spell out the basic education sector’s response to the impact of COVID-19 on schooling.
“The unpredicted closures of our schools, and the unplanned disruptions to teaching and learning, have resulted in the reversal of gains made in the last 20 years,” said Motshekga.
“Research indicates that lost school days, lead to foregone learning losses. International experience confirms learning losses experienced during pandemics, lead to long-term adverse effects,
including learners obtaining lower overall educational value, and ultimately lower lifetime earnings.”
According to the recent World Bank study, school closures due to COVID-19 have brought significant disruptions to education across Europe and other western countries.
Emerging evidence from some of the region’s highest-income countries indicate that the pandemic is giving rise to learning losses and increases in inequality.
To reduce and reverse the long-term negative effects, the Ukraine and other less-affluent lower-middle-income countries, which are likely to be even harder hit, needed to implement learning recovery programs, protect educational budgets, and prepare for future shocks by “building back better.”
Motshekga said in South Africa, government must also indicate that social distancing requirements, remain a challenge in some schools, but we continue to work with the Department of Health and other stakeholders to explore solutions in this regard.
“No one can deny the resurgence of COVID cases in
isolated parts of the country, which affect our schools. For instance, the Phoenix area in the Umlazi District in KwaZulu-Natal, and the Motheo District in the Free State, are cause for concern,” said Motshekga.
“The Western Cape and KwaZulu-Natal, continue to record high community infections, resulting in the temporary closures of schools. Other than this, the system has remained stable and functional, despite persisting learning losses attributable to the COVID-19
She said the Council of Education Ministers (CEM) met on Friday to consider inputs from stakeholders, following rounds of consultations, regarding the already amended School Calendar for the 2021 academic year.
“We wish to remind South Africans that the determination of School Calendars, is a statutory process, which involves extensive consultations with the Sector’s critical stakeholders,” she said.
“Three options emerged from the consultations; and these were presented to the CEM for consideration. In the end CEM agreed that the amended 2021 School Calendar MUST be retained as it was from its very last amendment – that the October vacation, will not be interfered with.”
CEM further recommended that the lost number of
school days, should be recovered at District and school-level, but with reasonableness, said Motshekga.
Motshekga said there was new evidence from the National Income Dynamics Study – Coronavirus Rapid Mobile Survey (NIDS-CRAM), which is a broadly
representative study or survey on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on South Africa, that more school-aged children are not attending school than usual.
“It is not yet clear whether this is temporary non-attendance, or may become permanent (dropout)
from schooling. In the long run, the learning losses in primary school, may lead to an increase in dropout, when these children reach the Further Education and Training (FET) Band at Grades 10, 11 and 12,” she said.
“What we know at this point, is that learners with weak learning foundations, begin to drop-out in more significant numbers, as they progress through the Grades. This creates an urgent need to recover learning that has been lost.”
The minister said the first step towards addressing the crisis of lost learning, is to prevent further disruptions to school time, and prevent other learning losses.
“Experts keep on reminding us that children are less
susceptible to COVID-19 infections. Our efforts to introduce comprehensive safety protocols in schools, and the vaccination of teachers and support staff, have created the possibility to keep schools open, and a sustained return to regular attendance,” said Motshekga.
“The second step is to introduce measures to catch-up on the time as well as the teaching and learning that was lost through the COVID-19 pandemic, in particular. We urge parents and all of our stakeholders in the sector, to support our efforts to ensure that education continues without any further delays and/or disruptions.”
* Inside Education