Covid-19 may have a direct impact on the number of learners finishing school. According to the latest Covid-19 Policy Brief by UNESCO, the pandemic has most likely worsened pre-existing education disparities globally, which may result in an increase in school dropouts. Learners mostly affected by this will be the most vulnerable in our communities, including those living in poor or rural areas, girls, refugees, persons with disabilities and forcibly displaced persons.
A development practitioner, Kanyisa Diamond says she suspects that South Africa, like many other countries will also experience an increase in school and university dropouts following the Covid-19 pandemic.
This is not good news, because even before lockdowns were implemented in South Africa, only between 40-50% of children completed Grade 12.
According to the policy brief, most governments and education systems worldwide came up with innovative ways, to continue with learning during lockdowns, such as television and radio broadcasts or online learning strategies to support remote learning. However, many disadvantaged learners were excluded from these resources.
One reason for this is that many learners in developing countries, especially the youngest and minority groups are not fluent in the language of instruction, which is mostly English. Even when they could access content that they could understand, living conditions, economic stress, and low education levels of parents, including digital skills, meant that many children did not benefit from the stable environment and the learning support needed to adapt to these new modes of instruction.
Many of these disparities are apparent in South Africa as well. A good example is when the schools were scheduled to open in June. ‘Those with resources and who do not solely rely on government for educational resources and funding, such as private schools, fee-paying schools or former Model C schools, could continue learning, either through remote learning resources or their ability to ready themselves to reopen their schools on time. Many disadvantaged schools, however, did not have the means to access online learning resources. Various regions also opened at different times, as they were not all ready to meet government requirements at the scheduled time. Government requirements included making arrangements around social distancing, appropriate washing stations, appropriate sanitations and provision of PPE’s and water.
‘The sad part is that pre-existing negative conditions will continue to worsen for the less privileged unless we do things differently. We need to learn from Covid-19 and develop a sense of urgency as we pave a way forward.’
The brief noted that education budgets will be affected negatively due to the pandemic, exacerbating pre-existing funding gaps, unless governments find way to protect them. ‘This is true for South Africa as well. South Africa’s economic growth is in trouble and this will have an impact on CSI budgets. According to Stats SA, between the first and second quarter of this year, our Gross Domestic Product (GDP) fell by 16%, translating to an annualised economic growth of -51%. Sadly, from a transformative perspective, South Africa has not capitalised much on leveraging the private sector as much as they can to drive the developmental agenda beyond compliance through spending 1% of their NPAT (net profit after tax) towards socio-economic development activities.’
‘While we allocate 6% of our GDP into education, which is in line with international standards, basic education is getting less and less funding each year. I do agree with the UNESCO brief: unless we do things differently, we are going to go a few steps backward and inequalities that pre-existed, are going to worsen. As we look for ways to reform education the brief states that no one should be left behind. What might ‘leaving no one behind’ look like for South Africa?
- ‘Infrastructure for appropriate environments conducive for learning have to be at the top of the agenda. Why should children be encouraged to go to school every day, if we can’t even honour them with appropriate basic school infrastructure?
- ‘Parental engagement, and finding ways for communities to see schools as equity and assets for the future of their children, needs to be weaved into new strategies. Vandalism of schools cannot continue to be tolerated.
- ‘We cannot continue to teach children in a language they cannot access (this is against the constitution and the Bill of Rights), while less than 10% of the population continues to receive education uninterrupted from Grade R up to tertiary in their home language.’
‘If there is no sense of urgency now to do things differently and after Covid-19, we will be judged harshly by future generations.’
Photo Credit: Cobus Oosthuizen – Trialogue 2019