The number of pupils who have not been attending school as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic is not as large as the more than 500,000 suggested by the National Income Dynamics Study–Coronavirus Rapid Mobile Survey (NIDS-CRAM).
This is according to Prof Martin Gustafsson, an adviser to the department of basic education, who was giving an update on the basic education sector’s response to the impact of Covid-19 on schooling at a media briefing on Sunday.
He said that research on enrolment data, which will be released soon, indicated that the number of young children who should be attending school for the first time in grades R or 1 is lower by 25,000.
“This is a problem but obviously not of the magnitude of the 500,000 mentioned by NIDS-CRAM.”
He said their estimates showed that about 10,000 children aged 7 to 14, who were in the compulsory schooling age group, had been lost to the system.
“These are 10,000 young children we obviously need to worry about. We need to follow up. We need to make sure these children don’t lose out on schooling.”
Gustafsson said that the situation concerning enrolments above age 15 “seems to be less serious”.
“In grade 12 the data tells us schools have been particularly accommodating in allowing grade 12s to repeat given the difficulties grade 12s had last year.”
The sobering reality is that we have now reached a point where it’s virtually impossible to recover all of the lost learning.
Prof Martin Gustafsson
According to the Wave 5 NIDS-CRAM released last month, the number of seven- to 17-year-olds who have not attended school once this year is between 650,342 and 753,371.
“Whether this is a temporary or permanent dropout is, as yet, unknown, though previous research shows that the longer children remain out of school the higher the likelihood of permanent dropout,” the study found.
But Gustafsson said that there’s confusion over exactly how many children were lost this year.
“We are not too sure what to make of this [NIDS-CRAM] evidence.”
He said that if a child loses a week of school time, the child has lost about one-and-a-half weeks of actual learning “because of the way learning works, the disruptions and forgetting”.
According to him, the World Bank estimated that globally children who see their schooling disrupted because of Covid-19 will see lifetime earnings, on average, 5% lower than would have otherwise have been the case.
“That’s the average but it could be a lot worse for some, especially those who lose a lot of schooling or drop out of school.”
Said Gustafsson: “The sobering reality is that we have now reached a point where it’s virtually impossible to recover all of the lost learning. The challenge currently is to minimise the losses that have occurred. We are almost certainly not going to be able to get back to what we should be or would have been had there been no pandemic.”
He said that learning at, especially the early grades, was absolutely essential.
“We are concerned obviously about the matrics now but we should be especially concerned about the matrics 10 years from now because those are the matrics who would have suffered learning losses at this very critical foundational phase.”