No huge pupil dropout patterns during Covid-19 pandemic, says Motshekga

19 May 2022 - 21:44
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Basic education minister Angie Motshekga. File image
Basic education minister Angie Motshekga. File image
Image: Freddy Mavunda

Minister of basic education Angie Motshekga on Thursday set the record straight on the number of pupils who dropped out as a result of Covid-19. 

This after conflicting reports and some suggestions that half-a-million affected children did not return to school. 

Motshekga dismissed these allegations and told MPs that the problem of dropouts was relatively small and manageable.

“The DBE has paid careful attention to this, and has engaged with the various researchers.  After initial conflicting reports, there is now agreement that initial evidence shows some half-a-million children, did not return to school when they should have, is not correct,” Motshekga said. 

She was presenting her R29.6bn budget for the current financial year.  

“The evidence we now have, and researchers are in agreement on this, is that there was no huge worsening of the dropout patterns,” she said. 

Motshekga admitted there have been some problems, such as grades R to 1 enrolment, being 25,000 lower than expected in 2021 due parents delaying the first enrolment of their children.

“But, compared to the initial half-a-million estimate, this is a relatively small and a manageable problem.”  

After undertaking its own research, Motshekga said the department found that participation rates in schooling rose during the pandemic.  

“According to recently released enrolment data, there has been substantial growth in enrolments in our schools, beginning before the pandemic, in 2019; and this growth did not slow down during the pandemic.  In actual fact, enrolments increased by half-a-million between 2019 and 2021.  This was mainly due to fewer learners dropping out,” she said.

Motshekga said among traumas experienced by children was the loss of their parents, caregivers and teachers to Covid-19. The department’s data revealed that by December 31 last year, more than 3,300 educators just  in the public service had succumbed to Covid-19 since 2020.   

Motshekga said the department’s analysis of the affect of the pandemic on the basic education system stressed the importance if improving reading in early grades. 

It noted that before the pandemic the country made significant gains in the reading abilities of children according to the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) between 2006 and 2016.

“Between 2011 and 2016, SA saw the second-fastest improvement among all PIRLS participating countries, after Morocco. According to Prof Martin Gustafssohn, the research suggests that, by the end of 2021, the average grade 4 learner could read as well as the average grade 3 learner before the pandemic.    

“Therefore, there has been a loss of one year of learning.  Put differently, we slid backwards in terms of our PIRLS progress by a few years.  These losses are similar to what has been witnessed around the world,” she said.

The minister revealed that among other priorities, the budget would be distributed as follows: 

— curriculum policy support and monitoring has been allocated R3.3bn,  a decrease of 2.5% from last year’s allocation;

— teacher education, human resource and institutional development gets R1.5bn, an increase of 3.5% on last year;

— planning information and assessment is allocated R15.4bn, up 4.6% on 2021/22; and

— educational enrichment services has been allocated R8.8bn, an increase of 4.4%.

Motshekga thanked all the stakeholders in her department for their efforts in keeping the sector up and running amid the pandemic and a myriad of challenges.  

“The sector has worked hard at minimising the detrimental effects of the pandemic, while accepting that the damage done is so deep that there can be no quick fixes and recovery will take years,” she said.


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