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Education MEC Debbie Schäfer says many learners are up to a year behind because of the pandemic

Goodwood Park Primary learners adhere to strict Covid-19 protocols such as temperature taking and social distancing on the first day of the 2021 school year. File picture: Ian Landsberg/African News Agency (ANA)

Goodwood Park Primary learners adhere to strict Covid-19 protocols such as temperature taking and social distancing on the first day of the 2021 school year. File picture: Ian Landsberg/African News Agency (ANA)

Published Nov 16, 2021

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Cape Town - Due to the loss in the continuity of learning caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, many learners were now up to a year behind in their education Education MEC Debbie Schäfer said on Monday.

Speaking during the annual report of the Western Cape Education Department for the 2020/2021 financial year, Schäfer told the standing committee on education that this would affect them and the economy for many years.

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“At the very start of the 2020/21 financial year, our decision-making was made dramatically more difficult as the Covid-19 pandemic arrived in the Western Cape.

“The hard lockdown announced in March brought teaching and learning to an abrupt halt, and what was initially planned to be a one-month closure turned out to be a long-term disruption.

“The impact of school closures and rotating timetables on learning outcomes has been profound. Of necessity, the Department of Basic Education (DBE) trimmed the curriculum for all grades except Grade 12, focusing on the core concepts our learners needed to cover before progressing to their next grade.

“The trimmed parts of the curriculum will now have to be caught up, which will take many years,” said Schäfer.

In a statement about how the pandemic affected education and the most vulnerable children, the Read Educational Trust said it had found that school attendance rates during the phased reopening of schools were significantly lower than in normal times.

Using data from the second wave of the National Income Dynamics Study – Coronavirus Rapid Mobile Survey (NIDS-CRAM), the trust said: “The data suggests that the actual number of school days lost underestimates the amount of learning lost.

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“Due to the staggered reopening of public schools and rotational attendance timetables, students in Grades 1 to 5 lost over 60% of a possible 198 school days.

“Depending on how well the school system and individual instructors catch up lost learning, below-expected Grade 12 outcomes may remain until at least 2022, and maybe until 2031,” said the statement.

Committee chairperson Lorraine Botha (DA) said: “The service delivery environment for the year under review demanded that learners, educators and officials show an incredible level of resilience.

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“Evidence of this resilience includes the lowest decline in the matric pass rate in the country, and moreover, an increase in, and the highest level of, bachelors passes in South Africa,” said Botha.

Responding to committee member Nosipho Makamba-Botya (EFF), who asked what resources were provided for online learning, the department’s superintendent-general Brent Walters said the pandemic had led to the use of technology to conduct its operations and development activities.

“Although this ensured that the prescribed social distancing was enabled, the learning losses of this will be felt for at least a decade.

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“The department has applied focused attention to curriculum and the core competencies needed to proceed to the next grade, thereby minimising the impact of the learning losses,” said Walters.

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Cape Argus

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