Covid-19 pandemic leads to 20-year school drop-out record - research

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  • About 500 000 children are out of school thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic, according to research.
  • This the highest rate in 20 years. 
  • Researchers suggest that schools reopen fully to avoid further drop-outs.

New research indicates that the Covid-19 pandemic has led to 20-year school drop-out record.

The latest National Income Dynamics Study – Coronavirus Rapid Mobile Survey (NIDS-CRAM) which was released on Thursday morning, painted a grim picture of the effects the pandemic was having on schooling in the country.  

READ | Covid-19: Gauteng records deadliest week on record amid third wave driven by Delta variant - data

The education research was done by Nompumelo Mohohlwane from the research coordination, monitoring and evaluation unit of the Department of Basic Education, and Debra Shepherd from the Department of Economics at Stellenbosch University.

The research estimated that at least 500 000 children were not in school. Compared to 2018 figures, Mohohlwane said, it meant an additional 200 000 children aged 7 to 17 were out of school. 

In November 2020, there were 400 000 children out of school.

The data was collected between 6 April and 11 May 2021.

Mohohlwane said about 13 million children were in schools, and 95% were in public schools.

Schooling was disrupted between March and June 2020 when the government implemented lockdown restrictions. While school attendance fully resumed by August, not all pupils returned.

Lost schooling

Mohohlwane said pupils lost 196 days of schooling in 2020.

"We can estimate that an extra 500 000 children were out of school in April 2021. We know that a longer absence leads to a loss of engagement and then dropouts." 

She added that dropouts were due to disengagement influenced by adult concern, confusion about attendance rotations, and greater anxiety for those who were unable to complete work that should have been "learnt at home". 

Mohohlwane said that now, up to 10% of adults report that at least one pupil in their household hasn't returned to school in April 2021; this was 5% in November 2020. 

According to the report:

Most households reporting that at least one learner had not returned to school in 2021 also reported that some other learner in the household had returned to school (i.e. households are not keeping all of their children from school, but rather some have returned while others have not).

The lowest return rates were in the Free State and the Eastern Cape.  

To avoid further disruptions and because children are at a lower risk of infection, the researchers recommend that schools should reopen.

Dr Nic Spaull from Stellenbosch University's Economics Department said that out-of-school rates were the highest in the last 20 years.  

Schools are closed early for the winter holidays and are expected to resume on 19 July. Teacher unions warned that schools might miss the date because of the high Covid-19 rates during the country's third wave of infections.

READ | Covid-19 infections in children higher in third wave - NICD

"We therefore again recommend that schooling should resume on a daily basis for all learners, with no further disruptions. Furthermore, careful planning and consideration of the subject and content taught should be examined and strengthened. Finally, we recommend that ongoing measurement and monitoring of changes in learning losses, catch-up or gains should be established and prioritised for the next five years," the report stated.

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