Scholars in South Africa up to one school year behind, says latest study

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'It is urgent that we get every child back into the classroom, safely, now.'
'It is urgent that we get every child back into the classroom, safely, now.'

The impact of disrupted education since the Covid-19 outbreak has been devastating, with scholars a full school year behind where they should be, according to the latest statistics

Rotational attendance, sporadic school closures and days off for specific grades have resulted in school children losing 54 percent of learning time. Some 400,000 to 500,000 learners have reportedly also dropped out of school altogether over the past 16-months. 

This is most likely for children living in informal urban and rural settings, with household poverty also playing a critical role. 

The total number of out-of-school children is now up to 750,000.  "The reality is that South Africa cannot afford to lose another learner or another hour of learning time," said Christine Muhigana, UNICEF South Africa Representative. 

"It is urgent that we get every child back into the classroom, safely, now." Muhigana added. 

Being out of school not only leads to learning loss but mental distress, exposure to violence and abuse, missed school-based meals and reduced development of social skills. 

In the longer term, the skills needed to transition into working lives will be affected. 

Also read: 'We are delighted': All preschools and daycares now included in the next vaccine roll-out

'The education system cannot afford any further shocks'

Evidence also shows that when children are out of school, women are twice as likely to take on childcare responsibilities, affecting their ability to work or search for work. 

The switch to blended learning, following the Covid-19 outbreak, was quick and included rotational classes, as well as access to online, radio and TV educational resources. 

"Remote learning has been a lifeline for some children but for the most vulnerable in South Africa, even this was out of reach," said Muhigana. 

Access to the devices, data and skills necessary to navigate online resources are simply not possible for many children. 

"We need to ensure that we prioritise vulnerable girls and boys in all our efforts to keep children in classrooms," added Muhigana. 

The education system cannot afford any further shocks, such as the recent unrest which resulted in more than 140 schools being vandalized in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng. 

This comes on the back of the more than 2,000 schools that were looted and damaged during the hard Covid-19 lockdown last year.

"The twin burden of Covid-19 and recent disruptions equally affects teachers, supporting and improving their well-being should be a priority," said Muhigana. 

"We are glad that the Department of Basic Education is hosting the first ever 'Teacher Wellness Seminar' and UNICEF is committed to provide its full support to the education sector," she added.  UNICEF calls on all stakeholders to ‘Reimagine Education’ to help regain the ground lost, by taking advantage of emerging technologies to accelerate education service delivery, while focusing on equity and broader partnerships for greater impact. 

Submitted to Parent24 by UNICEF.

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