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The Impact of COVID-19 on a Fragile Education System: The Case of South Africa - FREE E-book

The 5 Horizon Framework developed by GrowZA founder, Craig Kensley points to the need for the consideration of the RETURN (Horizon 3), REIMAGINING (Horizon 4) and REFORM (Horizon 5) strategies in the SA education sector.

Development without strategy is a misnomer. Assessing the extent of the longtail effects of the lockdowns on citizens of school-going age is critical.

This e-book "Primary and Secondary Education During Covid-19: Disruptions to Educational Opportunity During a Pandemic" edited by Fernando M. Reimers is a window into what we know, assume and deduce. This is an interesting base from which to start the conversation about the rebuild.

Find an extract from chapter 12 of the book below and download the e-book by clicking the button at the end of this blog post.

"Given the unprecedented nature of the pandemic and the limited empirical data we have at our collective disposal, the work is largely speculative with respect to assessing the impact of COVID-19 on learning.

As this book was written, the results of the National Senior Certificate Examinations, the terminal examination for the schooling system, were announced. Interestingly, while the national pass rate declined by 5.1 percentage points, from 81.3% in 2019 to 76.2% in 2020, the Minister of Education, Mrs. Angie Motshekga (2021), explained that the decline was attributable to a drop in the performance of progressed learners, a group of candidates who were repeating their examinations. It is not possible, however, to conclude from this that COVID-19 has had no effect on learning.

In South Africa, as elsewhere in the world, the educational impact of the pandemic included the following:

(i) learning losses because of school closures

(ii) widening of pre-existing education disparities

(iii) learning gains made over time would be wiped out

(Dorne et al., 2020; Hanushek and Woessmann, 2020; United Nations, 2020).

During the March 2020 Level 5 lockdown there were two possible ways to continue with learning activities: online learning or self-learning with parental and sibling support. Even for advantaged schools and learners who could do so, several issues influenced the effectiveness of online learning.

For example, the urgency of responding to the pandemic did not allow for the development of an implementation plan or a system of educator and learner support. Educators and learners were thrust, almost overnight, into an education model with which few had experience (Doukakis and Alexopoulos, 2020).

More advantaged schools and households were better able to sustain learning using online learning strategies, although this required effort and presented challenges for both teachers and parents. For this group of learners, schooling continued through online lessons, either through live online teaching or uploaded recorded lessons.

Many disadvantaged schools, however, did not have the means to facilitate satisfactory online learning (Parker et al., 2020; Spaull, 2020). In poorer households, many children did not have a quiet workspace, desk, computer, internet connectivity, or parents who had the time or capacity to take on the role of home schoolers.

The 2018 General Household Survey estimated that 22% of households had access to a computer and only 10% had internet access (Stats SA, 2019: 63). Spaull and Van der Berg (2020: 8), based on a survey they conducted, found that while 90% of South African households reported having access to a mobile phone, only 60% reported having access to the internet via their mobile phone.

A survey of their members by the South African Democratic Teacher Union (SADTU, 2021) revealed that two-thirds of learners from poorer households had almost no communication from their teachers during school closures. During the time learners remained at home, Spaull and Van der Berg (2020: 9) estimated that 18% of all children in the school-going age group, were in households without an adult caregiver during the day. What is more, without either teacher contact or adult supervision many African language mother-tongue learners would have had no assistance for managing the English in which most of the lessons would have been delivered.

This differentiation in social capital and resources meant a differentiated set of learning experiences at home. While all learners experienced learning losses during this time, because of the lack of access to educational inputs for three-quarters of learners, almost no learning took place for many children from poor backgrounds. Several media reports confirmed this. The executive director of a large teacher union described the situation of Grade 1 learners in several schools in the country: “… (there is going to) … be a generation of people who cannot read at all. If you think we have a problem with reading now, watch this space” (Macupe, 2021: 5). Macupe (ibid.) cited a parent who said that her child was going to high school, but he struggled to read and write.

As we noted previously, the government supported learning programmes through public radio and television, but these covered a limited number of subjects and grades and were not enough to bridge the divide of unequal access to resources. On the basis that television programmes were available for only one and half hours per day, Spaull and Van der Berg (2020) calculated that learners were only receiving the equivalent of 5% of the instruction time they would have received in a normal school day.

School closures also meant the halting of supplementary services provided through the schooling system. For instance, currently, over nine million learners receive two meals per day through the National School Nutrition Programme (NSNP). The suspension of this programme during the lockdown period left these children at risk of being underfed for several months (Le Grange, 2020; Parker et al., 2020).

For many learners, school is a source of education as well as safety and support. One school located in a rural area moved final-year learners in with their teachers to continue their studies and support during lockdown (CBS News 2020). As one learner stated, many were aware of the importance of education for social mobility and the reduction of inequality: “There are four people in each room, and we get lunch there after school. It’s important because getting a good education – especially in South Africa – it sort of determines where you’re going to end up in life” (ibid)."

Education during covid 19
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