School Dropouts At Record High Due To COVID Pandemic

The recent National Income Dynamics Study-Coronavirus Rapid Mobile Survey (NIDS-CRAM) report has revealed record non-attendance rates for students between the ages of 7 and 17 since the pandemic hit South Africa in March of 2020.



The National Income Dynamics Study-Coronavirus Rapid Mobile Survey (NIDS-CRAM) is self- described as “a broadly nationally representative survey of the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on South Africa”.

In their most recent report, they explored statistics as they related to housing, mental health, employment and schooling to mention a few. With regards to schooling, the study shared results of a survey conducted amongst adults with children between the ages of 7 and 17 within their households. The survey was meant to assess the impact of the pandemic on the access to and attitudes towards schooling within these households.

The study revealed that of the students within this age group, an extra 500 000 dropped out of the conventional schooling system during the pandemic, resulting in the number of dropouts tripling from about 230 000 children pre-pandemic (2018) to about 750 000 as of May 2021.

It cannot be known for certain whether these results constitute temporary or permanent dropouts, however, as stated in the report:

... previous research shows that the longer the children remains out of school, the higher the likelihood of permanent dropout.

The report also states that learner dropout rates are at their highest, whilst school attendance is at its lowest since 2002. This means that the current dropout rates are the highest they have been in about 20 years whilst the school attendance rates, which stand at 94% as of April/May 2021, dropping from 98% in 2018, are at the lowest they have been in 20 years. 

Despite the average dropout rate having increased from 5% in November of 2020 to 10% nationwide in April/May of 2021, the highest dropout rates can be found within poorer households, such as those in rural areas, townships, households experiencing economic hardship, etc. 

Amongst the households that reported at least one child not returning to school; traditional households, households with caregivers who worry about their children’s return to school, households facing financial insecurity, and households that earn no income each had high student non-attendance rates of 13% in April/May of 2021.

Finally, based on calculations, it is estimated in the report that the average primary school child would have lost between 70% and 100% of a full year of learning as a result of the circumstances surrounding schooling during the pandemic.


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