The Department of Basic Education has published the updated return dates and plans for schools in South Africa.
In a gazette published on Thursday (15 July), basic education minister Angie Motshekga said schools will reopen on 26 July 2021 for all learners (Grades R to 12) to return to school on the daily or weekly rotational timetable model.
The principal, school management team and non-teaching staff will return to school on 22 July 2021, to prepare for the return of learners to school on 26 July 2021.
While the government does not prescribe opening dates for private/independent schools, the gazette states that these schools must remain closed for contact classes until 26 July 2021.
Motshekga had originally planned for the full return of students to daily attendance schedules, as opposed to the current daily or weekly rotational timetable model.
For much of the last year, most students in South Africa are learning in a ‘shift system’, with a large amount of learning and coursework still expected to be done at home in an effort to increase social distancing.
While this has helped reduce Covid-19 infections, it has also had a notable impact on teaching and learning time, with concerns that learners may be almost a year behind on the curriculum.
To address this, Motshekga said that primary schools (learners in Grades R to 7) must return to the traditional and daily attendance timetabling model from 2 August 2021.
This will also apply to schools for learners with special education needs across all grades, she said.
Mothsekga said that principals, school management teams, and non-teaching staff in primary schools are expected to utilise the week commencing on 26 July 2021 to finalise the preparations for the return to the traditional and daily attendance timetabling model on 2 August 2021.
Lost teaching time
Projections indicate that between March 2020 and June 2021, most primary school learners in South Africa have lost 70%-100% (i.e. a full year) of learning relative to the 2019 cohort, data from the latest National Income Dynamics Coronavirus Rapid Mobile Survey (NIDS-CRAM) shows.
The NIDS-CRAM is a study conducted by a national consortium of 30 social science researchers from local universities, as well as groups like the Human Sciences Research Council and the Department of Education.
The survey is a comprehensive and nationally representative survey of how the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown impacted South African households, with a particular focus on income and employment.
In total, 93 days of schooling have occurred between 15 February 2021 and 30 June 2021, the researchers said.
Assuming contact learning for 50% of this time, best estimates suggest that most primary school children have lost between 70% to a full year of learning since March 2020.
“To put this in perspective, this is the same as saying that the average Grade 3 child in June 2021 would have the same learning outcomes as the average Grade 2 child in June 2019.
“However, the international evidence points towards additional effects of ‘forgetting’ or regression that could hinder current learning, particularly if teaching occurs as if the content of the previous year’s curriculum has been mastered, let alone learnt.”
Therefore, cumulative learning losses could exceed a full year of learning as learners move through the school system, the researchers said.