6 big changes proposed for schools in South Africa – including a new timetable

The Department of Basic Education needs to urgently consider changes to South Africa’s school system to make up for teaching time lost during the Covid-19 pandemic.

This is according to new research by Stellenbosch University, which shows most learners in South African schools missed at least three-quarters of a school year over the course of 2020 and 2021, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, lockdowns, school closures and rotational timetables that were introduced to maintain social distancing in classrooms.

Conservatively estimated, learners have fallen 40% to 70% of a school year behind earlier cohorts in language and much more – 95% to 106% of a school year – in mathematics, the researchers said.

To address these issues, the researchers recommend several interventions:

Extra time

Mathematics deficits due to lost time amount to at least a year of learning in all grades. Extra time is required for Mathematics at all levels to catch up on the year lost.

The researchers added that mathematics and language are gateway subjects, forming the basis for learning in all other subjects.

As such, additional time for catching up on these subjects should be sought. Where feasible, time allocations for other subjects should be reduced or non-core subjects suspended or integrated into other subjects in order to free up time for language and mathematics.


Any catch-up programme requires additional time. One way that this can be achieved is to strengthen the use of existing instructional time.

As schools return from the disruptions of the past two years they need to be supported in maintaining regular school days and normal timetables.

Shorter days (for the foundation phase or on Fridays) should not be permitted. Careful regulation of school days during examination times must be undertaken to ensure that terms run their full course and a maximum number of school days are utilized for instruction.

The district and circuit managers have a crucial role to play here, the researchers said.

Less homework and other cutbacks 

Attention to addressing backlogs in reading and number sense in the Foundation Phase is a priority. Teachers must be supported in utilising existing resources and making sure that learners have the opportunity to take reading material home.

In subsequent phases, the overfull curriculum and homework tasks in other subjects should be reduced to allow learners to give more attention to catching up in Mathematics and Language.

In other words, the instructional load of all subjects apart from Mathematics and Language needs to be reduced. This will require discussion and coordination amongst staff in schools across subjects and grades.

Benchmark tests 

Diagnostic assessments of learners’ knowledge to identify gaps should be done by individual teachers.

The government could assist teachers by providing quality benchmark assessments and assistance to teachers in interpreting the results of these tests.

Teaching assistants 

The sole task of the educator assistants should be to work through the previous year’s DBE Rainbow workbook with individual learners.

This will provide, especially struggling, learners with one-on-one instructional and effective support.


The Department of Basic Education needs to attend to the trimming of the curriculum as a matter of urgency.

Certain learning areas/topics should be omitted or consolidated, and others delayed. The focus should be on mastering those skills and concepts that are necessary for progression in learning in subsequent grades.

As an example, in mathematics, definitions of three-dimensional shapes can be left for later grades while core foundational content is mastered.

Read: Ramaphosa talks up government interventions for rising prices in South Africa

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6 big changes proposed for schools in South Africa – including a new timetable