500 000 school pupils have dropped out since Covid-19 started – report

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Learners in classroom.
Learners in classroom.
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The Covid-19 pandemic, which started in March 2020 in South Africa, has not only negatively impacted the livelihoods of many South Africans who lost their jobs but it has also disrupted the education systems in the country, resulting in a record number of school dropouts.

According to a research study conducted by Stellenbosch University student, Nompumelelo Mohohlwane, an estimated 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.

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

Mahohlwane also found that pupils had lost a total of 196 days due to the pandemic, adding that the loss of engagement is what led to the dropping out.

“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.”

The report also found that most households reported that at least one learner had not returned to school in 2021.

UNICEF says that it’s likely that children who are living in informal urban areas and those living in rural areas make a large portion of these dropouts because of household poverty.

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“Remote learning has been a lifeline for some children but for the most vulnerable in South Africa, even this was out of reach,” Christine Muhigana, UNICEF South Africa Representative said before explaining that access to devices, data and skills necessary to navigate online resources is a barrier to vulnerable children.

“We need to ensure that we prioritize vulnerable girls and boys in all our efforts to keep children in classrooms,” she added.

Speaking to IOL, Senior lecturer in the Faculty of Psychology of Education at Unisa, Dr Connie Haasbroek, said school dropout rates were the highest in the last 20 years.

She also added that teachers are also having a hard time trying to fit in the curriculum and in motivating learners to return to school.

“Teachers are finding themselves having to play catch-up. Vocational education should be integrated into our curriculum from early grades. Decision-making, self-awareness/self-knowledge and critical thinking skills are some of the important life skills that every learner must be able to master, enabling them to make the correct life choices. They need to be supported and enabled to make healthy decisions in terms of their schooling careers,” she told the publication.

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