Virus sets South Africa schools back 20 years : minister

FILE PHOTO: A learner is screened as schools begin to reopen after the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) lockdown in Langa township in Cape Town, South Africa . REUTERS/Mike Hutchings/File Photo

At least 10,000 children in South Africa have dropped out of school since the pandemic started, with students learning half or less than average in 2020 due to coronavirus, the education ministry said Sunday.

Face-to-face lessons have only partially resumed since South Africa’s schools reopened in June last year, after more than two months of home-schooling to limit the spread of Covid-19.

Public schools have since been shut again over shorter periods — including a delayed start to the 2021 academic year — and most students still only physically attend class on a rotational basis to avoid crowding.

Education Minister Angie Motshekga on Sunday said that as a result, children in 2020 learnt between 50 and 75 percent less than the previous year’s average.

Coronavirus interruptions have also affected attendance, with 10,000 fewer children aged between seven and 14 enrolled in school in 2021, according to a preliminary analysis by the Department of Basic Education (DBE).

Enrolment was also 25,000 lower than expected for children aged between four and six, although less concerning for secondary school students.

“The unprecedented closures of our schools, and the unplanned disruptions to teaching and learning, have resulted in the reversal of gains made in the last 20 years,” Motshekga said at a press briefing.

Most learning losses were observed in poorer rural areas and townships, where internet access is limited.

“If children are not in contact with teachers, especially children from disadvantaged communities, learning does not happen as it should,” DBE researcher Martin Gustafsson told the briefing.

He added that primary school children were still only in class for an average of three days a week and had already missed half of planned learning this year.

South Africa is the continent’s worst virus-hit country, with over 2.7 million confirmed coronavirus cases and more than 81,000 deaths.

The nation is currently battling a persistent third infection wave that experts warn could overlap with a looming fourth.

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