Counting the cost of lost schooling in South Africa


A year ago, at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, we predicted that school closures in South Africa would result in learning losses. A loss of contact learning time would result in lower academic performance, and the losses would be greater in free schools (serving children from low-income families) than in fee-paying schools.

Now we can update how much contact teaching time was lost in 2020 and do a “informed speculation“on the amount of learning loss based on changes in test scores between 2019 and 2020.

Overall, the impact literature pandemic on education highlights learning losses and declining outcomes due to school closures, widening pre-existing educational disparities and erasing learning gains over the years. time.

In South Africa, the March 2020 the hard lockdown led to the closure of schools and the expectation that teaching and learning would continue from home. Schools and households with resources were better able to support learning by going online.

In general, households of learners in free schools did not have these resources. Many children did not have a quiet workspace, desk, computer, Internet connection, or parents who had the time or the capacity to supervise learning.

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Schools closed on March 14, 2020 and returned in a staggered manner from June 8, 2020. The first 46 days of the school year, before closing, could be classified as regular schooling.

pupils of 12th grade (last year of secondary school) and 7th year (last year of primary school) for 28 and 33 days; were the first to come back after not going to school. Grades 5 and 8 were the last to return after learners were absent from school for 81 days.

In accordance with social distancing protocols, learners attended school on a rotational basis, some on alternate days.

Education economist Martin Gustafsson valued that most learners could have wasted almost 60% of their contact school days – or 65% for children from lower socioeconomic groups.

The program had to be reduced and reorganized to be completed in 2020. In January 2021, 40% of school principals reported that they had not completed most of the cropped curriculum for most subjects.

The research

I co-wrote a comparative analysis of the short-term educational impact of Covid-19 – a book chapter that deals with the effect on the education system and individual schools. The objective was to examine the effects of school closures on the loss of learning time and academic performance.

The loss of contact learning time can be quantified, but it is more difficult to quantify the effect of school closings on learning outcomes, such as achievement scores. Many countries have resorted to extrapolating predictions from other studies.

In Belgium, however, researchers were able calculate the effects of school closings on the math scores of grade 6 learners using six years (2015 to 2020) of data on standardized test scores.

They found that the averages of math schools in the 2020 cohort fell from 0.19 to 0.25 standard deviation from the norms of the previous five years. The standard deviation, a statistical value, tells us about the dispersion of the test results around the mean.

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Not having a similar data set, we asked the question: if the 2019 trends in the international study of mathematics and science test had been administered to grade 9 learners in October 2020, what would have been their math achievement score?

Grade 9 learners had taken the test in September 2019, so we were able to use the results of the Belgian study to speculate on how our learners might have performed on a ‘2020’ test.

The Belgian study provides us with solid results on the effects of school closures on the results of standardized tests.

We applied the Belgian results to data from the South African Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study 2019 to extrapolate South African learning losses. These results provided us with a scenario of the minimum learning losses in South Africa for 2020.

From the Belgian results, we extrapolate a learning loss of 0.25 standard deviation in free schools, 0.19 standard deviation in fee-paying schools and 0.21 standard deviation at national level.

Applying these values ​​to the South African data for 2019, the table below shows the South African output estimates for the 2020 equivalent of the study.

Predicted trends in scores from the 2020 International Mathematics and Science Study.

So if the 2020 Grade 9 cohort had responded to the 2019 achievement test, the 2020 math average scores would drop from 389 to 373 points (4.1% learning loss). The drop in fee-paying schools would be 440 to 425 points (3.4%) and in free schools from 361 to 346 points (4.2%).

Application of the Belgian methodology to South African data shows that the 2020 International Mathematics and Science Study Trends study scores would have regressed to 2015 levels, when the national average, paid and free scores were 372 points, 430 points and 342 points, respectively.

Go back

Another way to describe learning loss is by skill levels in math. In the 2019 Trends in the international study of mathematics and science, 41% of grade 9 learners demonstrated that they had acquired basic math skills.

In “Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study 2020”, this would decrease to 34% – the same value as in 2015.

South Africa began the post-apartheid democratic era in 1994 with very low and uneven success scores and school performance is slowly improving to shared values ​​in 2019. The sad and uncomfortable truth is that the country will likely end 2020 with lower pass scores than 2019.

Performance gains since 1994 will approach 2015 performance levels – a loss of five years of learning. The effect of the pandemic will exacerbate existing educational inequalities created by apartheid policies and current gaps.

The number of days that schools will be closed in 2021 is unknown. We also don’t know the quality of the engagements when learners are in school and how individual recovery of learning will occur.

Suppose there is no rapid recovery from learning losses. In this case, we predict that fewer learners will leave school with the skills and knowledge necessary to access other learning opportunities or to find a suitable place in the labor market. The Covid-19 will have lasting effects on education and society in general.

This article is republished from The conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read it original article.

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