Counting the cost of lost schooling in South Africa

Counting the cost of lost schooling in South Africa

A year ago, at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, we predicted that school closures in South Africa would result in learning losses. A loss of contact learning time would lead to lower educational outcomes, and the losses would be higher in no-fee schools (serving children from low income families) than in fee-paying schools.

Now we can update how much contact teaching time was lost in 2020 and make an “informed speculation” on the amount of learning loss based on changes in test scores between 2019 and 2020.

Globally, the literature on the impact of the pandemic on education highlights learning losses and decreased attainment scores as a result of school closures, widening of pre-existing education disparities and wiping out of learning gains made over time.

In South Africa, the March 2020 hard lockdown led to school closures and the expectation that teaching and learning would continue from homes. Schools and households with resources were better able to sustain learning by going online.

Generally, households of learners in no-fee schools didn’t have those resources. Many children didn’t have a quiet work space, desk, computer, internet connectivity, or parents who had the time or capacity to supervise learning.

Schools closed on 14 March 2020 and returned in a staggered manner from 8 June 2020. The first 46 days of the school year, pre-shutdown, could be categorised as normal schooling. Grade 12 (final year of secondary school) and grade 7 (final year of primary school) learners, after not attending school for 28 and 33 days respectively, were the first to return. Grades 5 and 8 were the last to return after learners had been away from school for 81 days.

Following social distancing protocols, learners attended school on a rotational basis, some on alternate days.

Education economist Martin Gustafsson estimated that the majority of learners could have lost almost 60% of their contact school days – or 65% for children in the lower socioeconomic groups.

The curriculum had to be reduced and reorganised for completion in 2020. In January 2021, 40% of school principals reported that they had not completed most of the trimmed curriculum for most subjects.

You can read the full article in The Conversation here.