Experts Fear Learners Won't Return To School


Due to the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, many schools have seen a drop in learners attending school in 2020. Experts fear that these learners may not return to school in the 2021 academic year. 

Learners experienced an extremely challenging year in the 2020 academic due to the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic. Many were without the necessary resources to continue going to school or feared getting sick and infecting their families if they attended schools. 

The 2020 academic year saw schools around South Africa experiencing long periods of closure as the country battled the coronavirus. This caused an estimate of 15% of learners failing to return to schools in 2020, according to Department of Education, director general Mathanzima Mweli. 

While Mweli remains positive about these learners returning to schools when they reopen, experts have indicated that it is highly likely that this may not be the case. 

Associate professor at the School of Education at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, Labby Ramrathan said that the learners may have found a different way to support themselves and their families while they stayed away from school and that this lifestyle may seem more beneficial to them than returning back to school. 

Professor Ramrathan says that it will take a lot of motivation from the students' parents and guardians, to get learners to return to school. He says that parents must first understand the value of education in order for them to keep the learners interested and motivated to return to school. 

Senior Researcher at Stellenbosch University, Nic Spaull said that the effects of the extended school closures last year will be seen in the current year through higher dropout rates, lower immunisation and lost time. 

Teachers are concerned about the return of learners at schools and how they will apply themselves in the classroom given the fact that they have been away from school for such extended periods of time. 

One teacher told eNCA:

"As a teacher my work can only be done if I have learners in front of me and I teach."

Adding that the department must recognize that teachers are already under immense pressure and they must understand that they are also human beings. 

Teachers will be returning to schools on 1 February while learners will return on 15 February. 

Stellenbosch University, Professor of Economics Servaas van der Berg said that the education department's three-year plan to catch up on the lost teaching time will require a 'sense of emergency and focus' that he believes many schools in South Africa currently lack. 

"It is likely that it would be mainly schools serving poorer parts of our population that would fail to catch up. In the next few years this will exacerbate the high repetition and dropout rates that we still experience in many schools."-Stellenbosch University, Professor of Economics Servaas van der Berg. 



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