Johannesburg. At least 10,000 children in South Africa have dropped out of school since the pandemic began, with students studying half or less than average in 2020 due to the coronavirus, the Ministry of Education said on Sunday.
Classroom teaching has only partially resumed since the South African schools reopened last June after more than two months of home schooling to limit the spread of Covid-19.
Public schools have since closed for shorter periods of time – including a delayed start to the 2021 school year – and most students still only attend classes on an intermittent basis to avoid overcrowding.
Education Minister Angie Motshekga said on Sunday that as a result, the children would have learned between 50 and 75 percent less in 2020 than the average of the previous year.
According to a preliminary analysis by the Department of Basic Education (DBE), the coronavirus interruptions have also impacted school attendance, with 10,000 fewer children between the ages of seven and 14 enrolled in 2021.
The school enrollment rate was also 25,000 less than expected for children between the ages of four and six, although it was less of a concern for secondary school students.
“The unprecedented closings of our schools and unplanned interruptions to teaching and learning have reversed the gains made over the past 20 years,” Motshekga said at a press conference.
Most of the learning losses were observed in poorer rural areas and townships, where internet access is limited.
“When children are not in contact with teachers, especially children from disadvantaged communities, learning does not take place as it should,” DBE researcher Martin Gustafsson told the briefing.
He added that elementary school children were still in class an average of three days a week and had already missed half of their planned learning this year.
South Africa is the worst virus-hit country on the continent with over 2.7 million confirmed coronavirus cases and more than 81,000 deaths.
The nation is currently battling a lingering third wave of infections, which experts warn could overlap with an impending fourth.