Department of Education laments lost teaching and earning times

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The Department of Basic Education has expressed concern over lost teaching and learning time, since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic last year.

According to the department, the closure of schools, and the disruptions to teaching and learning, have resulted in the reversal of gains made in the last 20 years.

“We have now begun to measure Covid-19-related learning losses in South Africa, by comparing how much children learned in 2020, with how much they learned in a normal school year before that. These measures indicate that between 50% and 75% of a normal year’s worth of learning was lost during 2020,” said Dr Stephen Taylor, director for Research at the Department of Basic Education.

Taylor said the delay in the start of the academic year in 2021, and the extended absence of pupils from school, would have a long-lasting negative impact on society in general, and not only for the education sector.

“Although we only have this information for certain grades and learning areas (such as reading), it is likely that pupils – across grades and subjects – would have been similarly affected,” he added.

He maintained that the education sector lost a week in the extended winter school holiday, resulting in the reduction of the number of school days, as initially scheduled in the amended school calendar.

Taylor said it was also likely that these losses would have been greater in poorer communities, where children have less access to effective remote learning opportunities and home support.

He added that the impact on early learning for children attending Early Childhood Development (ECD) centres is also likely to have been significant, since attendance rates at ECD centres have also dropped considerably since the pandemic.

Taylor further said there is now evidence from the NIDS-CRAM survey, that more school-aged children are not attending school than usual. It is not yet clear whether this is temporary non-attendance or will become permanent (drop-outs), adding that – assuming that the schooling system is unable to successfully catch up to pre-pandemic trajectories – they predict Grade 12 outcomes may be expected to be lower over time.

“Children remain at low risk to Covid-19, and the department’s efforts to introduce comprehensive safety protocols in schools, and to vaccinate teachers, have now created the possibility to keep schools open and return to everyday attendance,” Taylor said.

Political Bureau

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