The impact of Covid-19 on education: ‘Learners unlikely to make up for lost time’

'Shift system' helped reduce Covid-19 infections but it has also had a notable impact on teaching and learning time with concerns that learners may be almost a year behind on the curriculum – online school.

Online School Brainline said it is unlikely that learners will be able to make up for lost time due to the third Covid-19 wave within traditional school structures.

Last week the Department of Basic Education gazetted the updated return dates and plans for schools in South Africa indicating that schools will reopen on Monday, 26 July 2021 for all learners (Grades R to 12) to return to school on the daily or weekly rotational timetable model.

Brainline CEO Coleen Cronje said there has simply just not been enough classroom time for the majority of learners this year.

We have seen the statistics from the National Income Dynamics Coronavirus Rapid Mobile Survey indicating that in total, 93 days of schooling have occurred between 15 February 2021 and 30 June 2021.

“Assuming contact learning for 50% of this time, best estimates suggest that most primary school children have lost between 70% to a full year of learning since March 2020. It is, therefore, unrealistic to think that learners will be able to make up for lost time during the remaining few months of the year, using traditional schooling methods,” Cronje said.

The recent NIDS-Cram study, conducted by a national consortium of 30 social science researchers from local universities, as well as groups like the Human Sciences Research Council and the Department of Education, projected that between March 2020 and June 2021, most primary school learners in South Africa have lost 70%-100% (i.e. a full year) of learning relative to the 2019 cohort. It is estimated that half a million learners have not returned to school since the first lockdown in March 2020.

The reality is that, and this is supported by the research, international evidence points towards additional effects of ‘forgetting’ or regression that could hinder current learning, particularly if teaching occurs as if the content of the previous year’s curriculum has been mastered, let alone learnt. Therefore, cumulative learning losses could exceed a full year of learning as learners move through the school system,” Cronje explained.

The Department of Basic Education had originally planned for the full return of students to daily attendance schedules, as opposed to the current daily or weekly rotational timetable model.

For much of the last year, most students in South Africa are learning in a ‘shift system’, with a large amount of learning and coursework still expected to be done at home in an effort to increase social distancing.

“While this has helped reduce Covid-19 infections, it has also had a notable impact on teaching and learning time with concerns that learners may be almost a year behind on the curriculum.

Earlier this year we’ve seen reports indicating that 66% of schools failed to complete the CAPS-curriculum last year, while more than half have not been able to cover the first phase of curriculum during the first portion of the 2021 academic year. The recent school closures have once again exacerbated the situation,” Cronje noted.

Cronje added while there has been calls for the department to scrap the rotating system, now is the opportune time to look at restructuring the current traditional school system by phasing in e-learning elements. She said catching up with lost time will not be done in a traditional classroom environment.

“Rethinking education post-Covid means a paradigm shift to online learning. As Covid-19 restrictions impacted school openings worldwide, one thing quickly became clear: schools, teachers, students, and their parents would need to depend on technology more than ever.

Cronje says the pandemic has made online access to learning and teaching essential and urgent. Photo: Thomas Park on Unsplash.

“The pandemic has made online access to learning and teaching essential and urgent. It is therefore important that the basic education authorities partner with the private sector to empower learners and teachers programmes with data, devices and ICT training as a start. This will go a long way to ensure a fairer education system as e-learning and mobile learning could serve as an additional learning resource that can assist in accessing learning tools,” Cronje said.

E-learning has already been embraced by schools and universities around the country and the world.

Cronje said it is estimated that 31,18 million South Africans have access to the internet while there are 28,9 million active mobile users. She said it is therefore of the utmost importance that the online classrooms enjoy more prominence.

Online learning provides the opportunity for students to learn and be taught from literally anywhere in the world, by the best teachers in the world, without being limited to the confines of physical space in any way, shape or form.”


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