Government plans to scrap school holiday

The Department of Basic Education (DBE) plans to cancel the October holiday period for schools in South Africa to help make up for lost teaching time.

Basic Education spokesperson Elijah Mhlanga said that the department was holding talks with partners about the planned change on Tuesday morning (17 August). He added that an announcement on any planned changes would be made shortly.

Under the current 2021 school calendar, government school students are on holiday from 1 October until 11 October. Scrapping this holiday would give students an additional week of teaching time from 4-8 October.

All schools reopened on 26 July as part of the country’s move to an adjusted level 3 lockdown after a month-long level 4 lockdown.

While the education department shifted the June holidays to accommodate the closure, students still lost five teaching days over the period, which the October change will now pay up.

This comes after the lockdown caused severe teaching disruptions for much of 2020 and at the start of 2021.

Primary school students in South Africa returned to full-time teaching for more than a year on 2 August for the first time.

Since South Africa first introduced Covid-19 lockdown restrictions at the end of March 2020, most students have been learning in a ‘shift system’ – with a large amount of course work being done at home to encourage social distancing.

Unions opposed

Teachers unions have already opposed the change, saying that the government did not consult them on the new timetable.

The SA Onderwysers Unie (SAOU) said that it has received communication from the DBE that the following changes will take place:

  • That the five days from 4 to 8 October 2021 must be utilised to compensate for the lost school days;
  • The third and fourth terms will be separated by a long weekend by declaring 23 September 2021 as a school holiday.

“The absolute fixation to insist on the normal 200 school days per annum despite the fact that the world is experiencing an extraordinary period as a result of the Covid pandemic makes no sense whatsoever,” the SAOU said.

The union said that many educators and parents have also incurred financial expenses for the October holidays.

Lost time 

According to data from the latest National Income Dynamics Coronavirus Rapid Mobile Survey, the impact of disrupted education since the Covid-19 outbreak has been devastating, with learners between 75% and a full school year behind where they should be, according to data from the latest National Income Dynamics Coronavirus Rapid Mobile Survey (NIDS-CRAM).

Rotational attendance, sporadic school closures and days off for specific grades have resulted in school children losing 54% of learning time.

Some 400,000 to 500,000 learners have reportedly also dropped out of school altogether over the past 16 months.

This is most likely for children living in informal urban and rural settings, with household poverty also playing a critical role. The total number of out of school children is now up to 750,000, said UNICEF South Africa.

“The reality is that South Africa cannot afford to lose another learner or another hour of learning time,” said Christine Muhigana, UNICEF South Africa representative. “It is urgent that we get every child back into the classroom, safely, now.”

Being out of school leads to learning loss and mental distress, exposure to violence and abuse, missed school-based meals and reduced development of social skills.

In the longer term, the skills needed to transition into working lives will be affected. Evidence shows that when children are out of school, women are twice as likely to take on childcare responsibilities, affecting their ability to work or search for work.

Read: If you have taken a Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine – here’s what you should know about a third ‘booster’ shot

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Government plans to scrap school holiday