School dropouts increased drastically during lockdown in South Africa

Between 650,000 and 750,000 children aged seven to 17 were not attending school as of May this year, compared to the 400,000 to 500,000 figure from before the national lockdown.

This is according to the National Income Dynamics Study — Coronavirus Rapid Mobile Survey (NIDS-CRAM), which is conducted every few months by a selection of professors from Stellenbosch University and the University of Cape Town.

Co-author and researcher at Stellenbosch University Debra Shepherd told the Sunday Times that this increase does not completely represent a permanent dropout, as many of these learners may return to school after the lockdown ends.

“We should expect to see some of these learners return, but how many is difficult to say,” said Shepherd.

“It would be really important to continue to monitor and measure learner attendance to see perhaps with the removal of rotational timetabling in primary schools whether this will have an impact on learners returning.”

The study also found that, should the rate of learning loss in 2021 be equal to that lost during 2020, as of June 2021, South African learners have lost 8-12 months of learning.

Director of the Zero Dropout Campaign Merle Mansfield told the Sunday Times that many of the learners who drop out of school end up in the “not in education, employment or training” category.

“The truth is that there are not many opportunities for learners who do not have a matric, and their likelihood of accessing gainful employment is also slim,” Mansfield said.

Cyril Ramaphosa South African President
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa

Schools were once again forced to shut down from 30 June when President Cyril Ramaphosa moved South Africa to an adjusted level 4 lockdown.

The winter holidays were moved forward accordingly in an attempt to reduce the impact of this lockdown on the studies of young South Africans.

Schools are currently expected to reopen on 19 July in accordance with an announcement by Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga.

However, it is unclear how this will be affected by a possible extension of the current adjusted level 4 national lockdown.

Chief economist at the Bureau for Economic Research at Stellenbosch University, Hugo Pienaar, has predicted that the current lockdown will be extended.

Pienaar noted that the seven-day rolling average has risen since Ramaphosa first moved the country to an adjusted level 4 lockdown, meaning it would be difficult to justify a reduction in the lockdown level.

“Irrespective of the dire impact on the hospitality, liquor, and aviation sectors, the state of the pandemic will make it very hard to relax the regulations by Sunday,” Pienaar said last week.

Pienaar also noted that an agreement has been reached to extend the Covid-19 Temporary Employer/Employee Relief Scheme (TERS) to employees affected by the level 4 lockdown.

This suggests that the regulations will be extended beyond the initial two weeks, he said.

On Saturday, South Africa recorded 21,610 new confirmed cases of Covid-19 infection, with a further 265 deaths bringing the national death toll to 64,138.

Now read: Where your personal data goes when you register for a Covid-19 vaccine in South Africa

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School dropouts increased drastically during lockdown in South Africa