COVID learning losses: what South Africa’s education system must focus on to recover

COVID learning losses: what South Africa’s education system must focus on to recover

The South African education system is big (13 million learners), unequal and socially graded. Although improving, the achievement outcomes are still low, fragile and susceptible to shocks. The COVID-19 pandemic has dealt the education system a major blow, especially for poor and vulnerable learners.

In March 2020 South Africa, like most of the world, went into total lockdown, including school closures. The education system was unprepared for this. Schools, teachers and administrators were forced to build emergency remote-learning systems almost immediately. This threw the spotlight on access to digital devices, connectivity, having a quiet place to work in, and the problem of stubborn inequality.

Better resourced homes and schools were able to move to digital forms of learning and proceed with curriculum coverage. For the majority of learners, despite the best intentions, there was very little structured learning.

From June 2020, schools were reopened. Most schools followed a rotational timetable where learners attended school every second or third day. This rotational timetable continued in 2021.

Education scholars estimate that there was a loss of 60% of school contact time in 2020 and 50% in 2021. There were higher losses of school contact time in the less-resourced schools.

It’s uncertain exactly how much learning (knowledge and skills) has been lost and how wide the gaps may be for disadvantaged children. The global literature reports that:

  • learners from poorer countries and households experienced higher learning losses,
  • earlier grades were more susceptible to learning losses than secondary learners,
  • learning losses were higher for mathematics than for reading and
  • girls were more affected.

You can read the full article in The Conversation here.