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How Covid-19 impacted schooling, matric results and what can be done about it, experts weigh in

File picture: Pexels

File picture: Pexels

Published Jan 23, 2022

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Cape Town – Calls mount for online and remote learning to become the norm as the Covid-19 pandemic continues to wreak havoc on schooling and the education system.

Earlier this week, it was reported that the matric pass rate has increased to 76.4% in 2021.

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This is a slight increase from 2020 matric pass rate which was 76.2%.

The overall matric pass rate in 2019 was 81.3%, the matric pass rate in 2016 was 72.5%% and the matric pass rate in 2006, 66.5%.

Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga announced the 2021 matric exam results on Thursday in Pretoria.

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“The Class of 2021 was the most affected by the Covid-19 pandemic because they had to endure two consecutive years of harsh exposure to the unrelenting Covid-19 pandemic,” said Motshekga.

Education experts agree.

According to University of KwaZulu-Natal’s education expert Prof Labby Ramrathan, Covid-19 has definitely impacted schooling.

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“Working within disaster context, schooling within disruptive environments will become the order of the day within the 21st century.

“We need to build on the remote platforms for teaching, learning and assessment so that it becomes the norm rather than the exception.”

Ramrathan commented on the standard of education in the last decade and a half, saying the standard of education has not dropped but said their are several factors that contribute to the state of schooling.

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“The standard of education has not dropped.

“Rather, the changing context, including the Covid-19 context and the poor state of schooling, has made it difficult to offer quality teaching, learning and assessment.

“The curriculum being taught is also a concern in that it does not meet the aspirations of the majority of learners in the school education system.

“The curriculum, as currently constituted, channels learners towards higher education, but the reality is that the majority of learners do not access higher education.”

Ramrathan said the pass rate last year is due to a range of reasons from “access to schooling due to the pandemic, unavailability of learning opportunities through the digital platforms, two years of rotational schooling” as well as lower interest in schooling outcomes.

However, Ramrathan says, education should not be the sole responsibility of the Department of Basic Education, adding that learners need to take responsibility in their learning.

“Learners need to take greater responsibilities in their learning and support by parents.

“The education department needs to review its priorities on schooling and focus these on making school campuses better learning and teaching environments.

“Frivolous expenditure and failed policies and procedures of the department takes away the needed resources from the education budget.”

So how can families support the schoolchildren in their household.

It has a lot to do with resources they have access to.

“In a highly unequal society such as ours, the majority of parents cannot support their children in any substantial way.

“Perhaps social groups need to be established within communities to provide some level of support to the learners,” he said, adding that a review of our social support was needed.

University of the Western Cape Education faculty’s deputy dean of research, Rouaan Maarman said the standard of education was subjective in the South African school context but noted the decline in performance.

“A school’s outcomes (pass rates, throughput rates etc) is a very individual indicator which is influenced by the contextual factors inside and outside of that school, district or province.

“The Department of Basic Education (DBE) did however start generic testing more than 10 years ago, to have an overall view of the state of basic education.

“Their own tests, for example, the Annual National Assessments, the Systemic Evaluations, as well as the international tests demonstrated clearly a decline in performance of learners throughout the basic education schooling system.”

Maarman emphasised that there were many internal factors within the education system and external factors in society which shape the performance of learners in schools, therefore the performance will always be contextual.

“I hold the view that there must, at least, be minimum performance standards.

“For a start we must do all we can to ensure our learners perform at acceptable and comparable levels with other African and developing nations.

“Since the pandemic, I am sure that standards across the board have declined even more.”

Maarman called for an urgent national summit on basic education in South Africa.

“I have been pleading for an urgent national summit to overhaul the basic education system, with proper consultation.

“Not the consultations we always hear about but never see.

“We need public invitations and submissions per district to ensure we hear the voices of all South Africans, and take a full year to come up with a relevant and proper basic education plan for the country.”

However, Maarman is not confident that such an initiative will take place.

“The record of government does not demonstrate such nobleness.”

Maarman said the effects of the pandemic on schooling will be felt for a while.

“The pandemic has affected schooling in all ways possible and the fall-outs of pandemic schooling will be felt for a long time.

To fix the effects will demand insight into the backlogs created.

“To only tinker with the curriculum will not resolve the problems, hence my view for a deep analysis to determine what happened and what the current state of education is.

“Only thereafter would it be possible to re-design the course for the future.

“This cannot be a short-term intervention as all learners from Grade 3 onwards experienced learning backlogs.

“For me it is thus not only a matter of making up lost time, but a real and honest engagement with all aspects of the education system.”

During the pandemic, many worked from home.

But can the same apply for students, and is studying at home a viable option?

Maarman says it is not.

“Too many South Africans live in dire poverty and just don’t have the proper educational environment to pursue this.

“Online learning in my view can assist, but it is only an interim measure to cover for certain aspects of learning and teaching.”

While all stakeholders have a part in schooling, parents need to create the overall atmosphere in which learners can flourish at home.

“They need to provide love and care to build up their children and do what is necessary to support their children.

“This is a daily task, so we cannot complain about this responsibility as parents and caregivers.

“Schools can play a role here to provide parents with guidelines to support a conducive learning environment at home.”

What needs to change or improve in order to get a better matric pass rate?

Maarman argues that it starts from Grade R, not Grade 11 as many of us think.

“We make a mistake if we only focus on the matriculants of Grade 11 learners.

“We have to accept that we need a strong basic education system from grade R to ensure good matric performances.”

“There are so many things that must happen over the schooling years, but if we can ensure the basic learning principles are adhered to and that we adapt to learners’ learning needs we will go a long way to build a productive schooling experience.”

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