The coronavirus pandemic has decimated academic gains at schools in South Africa, with experts warning of a potentially ‘lost generation of pupils’ who may never make up for lost instructional time.
Currently, most students in the country are learning in a ‘shift system’, with a large amount of learning and coursework still expected to be done at home in an effort to increase social distancing.
Education experts told the Sunday Times that the continued rotational attendance of pupils is a disaster that is going to have long-term, significant negative consequences for children.
“If the department doesn’t do something, we could potentially have a lost generation on our hands,” Stellenbosch University researcher Nic Spaull told the paper. He said that pupils at 80% of public schools, mostly no-fee institutions, are still only attending class every second or third day.
Based on current projections, Spaull said that the average grade 3 child in June 2021 knows about the same as the average grade 2 child of 2019.
Education advisors to government have also warned that the lost time will likely impact matric marks in the next decade, and there are concerns that gaps in teaching will grow as pupils are moved up a grade without being given enough time on a specific subject.
Data from management consulting firm McKinsey & Company found that many students are also dealing with added trauma, including economic dislocation, hunger, and mental health challenges—all of which clearly affect learning, regardless of how it takes place.
Return to school
This lost teaching time is a major part of the government’s decision to keep schools in the country open despite the resurgence of a third Covid-19 wave, basic education minister Angie Motshekga said on Saturday (19 June).
“We believe that schools must remain open and in saying so we are not insensitive to the concerns raised about the rising infections.”
She said that the education sector has suffered severely in terms of learning and teaching, because of the virus outbreak.
Primary school children are set to return to school on 28 July, which is the first day of the third school term. However, high school student will still use a rotational system.
On an effort to kickstart the sector, Motshekga said that government will vaccinate 582,000 teachers and teaching staff over a two-week period.
The rollout will formally start on Wednesday, 23 June, concluding 8 July, the day prior to school closures.
“For the next two weeks, we make the clarion call to our school communities to drop all and vaccinate.
“In order for us to successfully complete this programme, we will need to keep schools open. Any disruptions would be undesirable,” Motshekga said.