Basic education school attendance drops drastically due to Covid-19

Johannesburg – Data from Statistics South Africa has laid bare the impact of Covid-19 in the country’s basic education system.

The stats agency in its 19th General Household Survey found the percentage of children that attended grade R, preschool, nursery school, crèche and educare centres had decreased from 36.8% in 2019 to 24.2% in 2020.

The data also showed that compared to 2019, a much larger percentage of children aged five (37.7% compared to 10.9%) and six years (11.8% compared to 3.5%) did not attend an education institution.

Though enrolment in education was still extremely high, a comparison with 2019 shows that a slightly higher percentage of children in older age groups were not attending school.

“The survey shows that only 6.4% of learners could access remote or home school alternatives nationally,” statistician-general Rasinga Maluleka said.

“It is particularly notable among five-year-olds [37.7% in 2020 compared to 10.9% in 2019] and six-year-olds [11.8% in 2020 compared to 3.5% in 2019] – these age groups being the ones worst affected by the closure of nursery schools and preschool
centres during this time.”

Sunday World reported two weeks ago that legislators and the Department of Basic Education came together to pan out plans to arrest school dropouts across the country, with pressure mounting on the government to prepare a dropout
prevention blueprint.

Deputy Minister of Basic Education Reginah Mhaule said at the meeting there were various reasons why pupils dropped out of the formal education system and that the Covid-19 pandemic had significantly disrupted schooling in South Africa.

“Evidence of the initial impact of the pandemic is beginning to emerge,” Mhaule said.

Research outcomes indicate that the pandemic has led to a 20-year school dropout record.

The latest National Income Dynamics Study – Coronavirus Rapid Mobile Survey, which was released in July, estimates that at least 500 000 children were not in school.

The Stats SA data also showed that the percentage of individuals aged five years and older and who attended school was the highest in Limpopo (92.3%) and Eastern Cape (92.2%), and lowest in Gauteng (78.3%) and Western Cape (83.6%).

According to Stats SA, about 14.7-million pupils were in South Africa’s education system. KwaZulu-Natal accounted for most pupils with 21.1% and Gauteng at 20.3%.

“Though only 4.7% of learners attended private schools, there were large variations between provinces. While 8.8% of pupils in Gauteng attended private schools, only 2.2% in Free State attended such institutions,” the document reads.

The percentage of children aged five years and older who attended no-fee schools rose from 0.4% in 2002 to 70% in 2020.

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