Education experts have warned that the Covid-19 pandemic could cause the dropout rate at South Africa’s schools to skyrocket, while many students are unlikely to catch-up on the work they missed due to lost teaching time, the Sunday Times reports.
An estimated 15% of students failed to return to government schools in 2020, said director-general of the Department of Education Mathanzima Mweli in December.
However, Mweli said that it was too soon to say whether these students had officially dropped out, as they might still return to school when classes resume in 2021. Education experts however, are less convinced that these students will return.
Associate professor at the School of Education at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, Labby Ramrathan said that some of these pupils may have found a different lifestyle to support themselves and their families, and returning to school would not interest them or be beneficial.
Stellenbosch University senior researcher Nic Spaull said that the effect of prolonged school closures in 2020 will only be seen now through higher dropout rates, lower immunisation rates and lost time.
He said that for many pupils the lost teaching time can simply not be recovered, and for students in grades 10 and 11 in particular, there is not enough time to catch-up.
Servaas van der Berg, a professor of economics at Stellenbosch University, said that government’s proposed three-year plan to catch-up lost learning time requires a ‘sense of emergency and focus’ which many of the country’s schools currently lack.
“being out of school is bad for children mentally, psychologically and socially, and undermines their long-term academic and economic prospects.”
Schools remain closed
On Friday (15 January), the Department of Basic Education announced that the government will keep all schools closed due to concerns around the country second Covid-19 wave.
Deputy Basic Education minister Reginah Mhaule said that both public and private schools will delay their opening dates by two weeks.
The return date of independent schools will vary based on their respective calendars. For other schools, the new opening dates are as follows:
- Teachers will report to schools on Monday, 1 February
- Learners will return on Monday, 15 February
Mhaule said that support staff will use the additional time to prepare schools for the return of learners. She added that further meetings will take place next week to determine the readiness of schools to reopen.