Shock lockdown numbers for schools in South Africa

An extra 500,000 children have dropped out of school during the pandemic, data from the latest National Income Dynamics Coronavirus Rapid Mobile Survey (NIDS-CRAM) shows.

The NIDS-CRAM is a study conducted by a national consortium of 30 social science researchers from local universities, as well as groups like the Human Sciences Research Council and the Department of Education.

The survey is a comprehensive and nationally representative survey of how the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown impacted South African households, with a particular focus on income and employment.

The group’s researchers found that school dropouts have tripled from 230,000 pre-pandemic to approximately 750,000 in May 2021.

90% of survey respondents indicated that all learners in the household had returned to school, with 10% of respondents indicating that at least one learner in their household had not returned to school since the beginning of the year.

Importantly, almost all households (99%) had some children attending, indicating that parents seem to be sending some children back but not others, the researchers said.

The General Household Survey of 2018 found that approximately 230,000 learners aged 7-17 years were not attending school in 2018.

This can be considered the “pre-pandemic” or “normal” rate of dropout.

Using the NIDS-CRAM Wave 5 data it is estimated that in May 2021 the total number of 7-17-year-olds that had dropped out of school (have not attended school once during 2021) was between 650,342 and 753,371 depending on assumptions. This marks a threefold increase in learner dropout.

“Whether this is temporary or permanent dropout is, as yet, unknown, although previous research shows that the longer children remain out of school the higher the likelihood of permanent dropout,” the researchers said.

“Learner dropout rates are now at the highest rates they have been in 20 years, i.e. since it started being monitored in household surveys in 2002.

Reciprocally, school attendance is at the lowest level it has been in 20 years, Average school attendance rates have dropped from a high of 98% in 2018, to 94% in April/May 2021.

Lost teaching time

Projections indicate that between March 2020 and June 2021, most primary school learners in South Africa have lost 70%-100% (i.e. a full year) of learning relative to the 2019 cohort.

In total, 93 days of schooling have occurred between 15 February 2021 and 30 June 2021, the researchers said.

Assuming contact learning for 50% of this time, best estimates suggest that most primary school children have lost between 70% to a full year of learning since March 2020.

“To put this in perspective, this is the same as saying that the average Grade 3 child in June 2021 would have the same learning outcomes as the average Grade 2 child in June 2019.

“However, the international evidence points towards additional effects of ‘forgetting’ or regression that could hinder current learning, particularly if teaching occurs as if the content of the previous year’s curriculum has been mastered, let alone learnt.”

Therefore, cumulative learning losses could exceed a full year of learning as learners move through the school system, the researchers said.


The Department of Education has embarked on a vaccine drive to innoculate as many teachers and educational staff as possible before the projected reopening of schools later in July.

Officials don’t want learners to lose out on any more teaching time but said they will be guided by the National Coronavirus Command Council and president Cyril Ramaphosa on the matter. Decisions on whether the current level 4 lockdown will be extended or not will be made this weekend.

South Africa’s vaccination programme has slowly sped up, though the NIDS-CRAM researches not an obvious gap happening over weekends.

Although vaccine supply was initially the major constraint to the rollout of vaccines in South Africa this is no longer the case. At the end of June 2021, South Africa had 7.4 million doses of vaccines but had only administered three million doses.

The majority (71%) of South African adults say they would get vaccinated if a Covid-19 vaccine was available. In the latest wave of NIDS-CRAM all respondents were asked “If a vaccine for Covid-19 were available, I would get it”, with the following findings:

Among the 29% of respondents who were vaccine-hesitant, the three leading reasons for their hesitancy were that they were worried about the side effects (31%), did not believe it was effective (21%) or did not trust vaccines in general (18%).

Read: Extended lockdown decision for South Africa expected this weekend

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Shock lockdown numbers for schools in South Africa