Simnikiwe Hlatshaneni
Premium Journalist
3 minute read
22 Feb 2021
1:23 pm

Covid-19 may have been a major setback for the education system in 2020

Simnikiwe Hlatshaneni

Not all schools and learners were able to adjust equally as learners from poor and working-class households were more heavily affected by Covid-19 disruptions to schooling.

It was a difficult year for matrics and learners in 2020. Picture: Michel Bega

The strides made in improving the education system have been impeded by conditions brought on by the government’s response to Covid-19.

This is according to Equal Education (EE) ahead of the expected release of the matric results for the class of 2020 on Monday.

Last year, the Deparment of Basic Education (DBE) estimated that 326 000 learners were unaccounted for since the start of the year. A clearer picture of the true extent of the dropout rate in the first year of the Covid-19 pandemic will be shown after data on learners who returned to school this year is collected.

Also Read: Saheti’s 58 matrics clock in 231 distinctions 

Accounts given by learners to EE indicated that matrics endured a tough year, studying under difficult conditions and hoping to pass despite the odds stacked against them.

“My expectation with my matric results is to pass with good marks. It (the matric year) was affected so
badly (by Covid-19) that at times we couldn’t cope,” said EE member Yolanda Magugu and matric candidate for 2020 in  Gauteng.

“We had to cover the whole year’s syllabus in months, not only just finishing it but with a mandate of understanding the information given to us. What kept me going is the support our teachers gave us, the support my peers gave me. Also the harsh reality hit us that we do not have a choice, we were never given a choice but to push through tough times,” she said.

Also Read: ‘Education under ANC has failed black kids’

Another matric pupil in the Eastern Cape, Lawrence Manaka, said the pandemic took precious education time away from them. The new worries brought on stress-related illnesses for some as they tried to navigate the so-called new normal. The support by parents and teachers were his main source of motivation.

But EE expressed concern that many improvements over the past five years of matric results could regress.

Not all schools and learners were able to adjust equally as learners from poor and working-class households were more heavily affected by Covid-19 disruptions to schooling.

Also Read: WATCH: Educated men don’t rape, Motshekga tells learners

While rural and township schools struggled with online learning, it was easier for well-resourced schools to sustain online learning compared to poorer households, where many learners do not have desks, books, computers or internet.

For instance, according to EE, only 20% of learners in no-fee schools had computers at home, compared to about 50% of learners in fee-paying schools. These inequalities could possibly manifest in the upcoming matric results.

“Over the last five years, there have been small but positive changes in the performance of Grade 12 learners. There has been a steady improvement in the number of bachelor’s passes by learners in quintile one to three schools,” said EE, showing that in 2019, 66% of matrics in quintile 5 qualified for a bachelor’s degree, up from 52% in 2015.

Inequality was, however, still prevalent as  learners in quintile 5 schools consistently achieve more bachelor passes compared to the lower quintiles. Bachelor’s passes for quintile 1 went up from 17% in 2015 to 28% in 2019.  Other measures of national progress, though imperfect, also showed improvement in the education system, such as the Trends in International Maths and Science Study (TIMSS) and the Southern and Eastern African Consortium for Monitoring Educational Quality (SACMEQ).


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