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Education department to announce on scrapping of October holidays soon

Research shows 'between 50% and 75% of a normal year’s worth of learning' was lost in 2020, says basic education department

19 August 2021 - 16:53 By belinda pheto
The department of basic education says it is concerned about learning time lost due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Stock photo.
The department of basic education says it is concerned about learning time lost due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Stock photo.
Image: 123RF/Pay Less Images

A decision is expected soon on whether the October school holidays will be axed.

On Thursday the department said it needed as much teaching time as possible. Department spokesperson Elijah Mhlanga told TimesLIVE it finished consultations with unions regarding the possibility of postponing the October holidays last week. A decision would come in a week or two, he said.

Schools are supposed to go on a week's break, from October 4 to 8.

Speaking on 702 on Wednesday, Mhlanga said the department’s proposal received pushback from unions and school governing body associations — but the department was nonetheless working on a plan.

“They [unions and SGB associations] have written to the department with their suggestions, but I won’t talk to what they are saying. The department will come up with a way forward,” Mhlanga said.

This comes as the department said on Thursday that it was concerned about the learning losses the sector has incurred since the coronavirus pandemic broke last year.

“We have now begun to measure Covid-19-related learning losses in SA by comparing how much children learnt in 2020 with how much they learnt in a normal school year before that. These measures indicate that between 50% and 75% of a normal year’s worth of learning was lost during 2020,” said Dr Stephen Taylor, director for research at the department.

The department said the delay in the start of the academic year in 2021 and the extended absence of pupils from school would have a long-lasting negative affect on society in general and not only on the education sector.

“Although we only have this information for certain grades and learning areas (such as reading), it is likely that learners across grades and subjects would have been similarly affected,” Taylor said.

The department said the sector lost a week due to the extended winter school holiday, resulting in the reduction of the number of school days as initially scheduled in the amended school calendar.

It added that the learning losses would have been greater in poorer communities, where children have less access to remote learning opportunities and home support.

It also said the affect on early learning for children attending early childhood development (ECD) centres was also likely to have been significant, since attendance rates had dropped considerably since the pandemic.

The department said there was no evidence from the National Income Dynamics Study — Coronavirus Rapid Mobile Survey (Nids-Cram) that more school-aged children are not attending school than usual. It is also not yet clear whether any non-attendance is temporary or would become permanent.

Assuming that the schooling system is unable to successfully catch up to pre-pandemic trajectories, they predict grade 12 outcomes may be expected to be lower over time.

“In the long run, the learning losses in primary school may lead to an increase in dropout when these children reach grades 10, 11 and 12. It is at this point when learners with weak learning foundations begin to drop out in larger numbers. This creates an urgent need to recover learning that has been lost,” the department said in a statement. 

The first step towards addressing lost learning is to prevent further disruptions to school time, it said.

“Children remain at low risk to Covid-19, and the department’s efforts to introduce comprehensive safety protocols in schools and to vaccinate teachers have now created the possibility to keep schools open and return to everyday attendance.”

The department said the second step, which would take some time, would be to introduce measures to catch up on what was lost. It urged stakeholders to support efforts to ensure that education continues without any further delays or disruptions.