2021 Systemic Test results confirm devastating impact of Covid-19 on education
In January this year, I called for the scrapping of the 1 metre rule in schools which has required the continued rotation of learners in schools across the province and the country.
There was overwhelming support for the call for full-time attendance from all sectors, as there was strong and mounting evidence emerging that the learning losses suffered by our learners were having long-term negative consequences, and that these were outweighing the risks of Covid-19 in schools.
We are now able to provide even further evidence of this. While our schools have thankfully returned to full-time attendance, the 2021 Systemic Tests, conducted in the Western Cape in October 2021, provide the clearest, internationally benchmarked and independent analysis of learning losses suffered by the learners in our province.
While we are the only province to conduct such tests, it is an indication of what the effects of this pandemic are on learners across South Africa.
Unfortunately, the results are dire.
The 2021 results are seen in comparison to tests conducted in 2019, as testing could not take place in 2020. While we had previously made great progress with a steady increase in performance in years preceding 2020, these gains have unfortunately been reversed as a result of the pandemic.
The results are as follows:
This test data has enabled us to begin developing appropriate remedial programmes to address these losses.
Overall, learners have fallen up to 70% of a school year behind previous cohorts in Language, and up to 106% of a year behind in Mathematics.
The greatest learning losses can be seen in the Foundation Phase. We have always maintained that the loss of contact (face-to-face) teaching time would affect our youngest learners the most as they do not have the same self-discipline, maturity or structure that our older learners would have to cope with rotating timetables and learning at home.
The WCED is studying these results and accompanying diagnostics with a focus on updating its learning recovery plans to address these losses. We already have a number of programmes underway to improve literacy and numeracy, which we are looking at expanding. In 2021 the WCED put a structured Language approach in place in all three Western Cape Home Languages based on the Science of Reading. The Department is now looking at ways to incorporate extra time for Reading, Writing and Mathematics in the Foundation Phase.
Most importantly, the extent of learning loss needs to be determined at the classroom level by the teacher. The diagnostics emanating from the systemic testing will be presented as a useful aid to direct the teacher in planning learning programmes for the learners in specific skills and core competencies for each of the grades and subject areas.
Ultimately, the most important way to claw back these losses is to ensure that every child is at school every day, that teaching and learning time is maximised, and that every effort is made to promote a learning culture beyond the school. Our administrative data from Temporary Revised Education Plans (TREPs) show that between closures and rotating timetables, 155 school days were lost in 2020 and 2021 in our province.
It is now more critical than ever that no person or organisation disrupts schooling. In addition to violating children’s constitutional rights, disruptions will only exacerbate the existing losses and put their futures in greater jeopardy. I appeal to all the residents of the Western Cape not to let their personal, political, or commercial interests override our learners’ education. We all need to work together to recover from this pandemic.