Covid-19-related school closures rob pupils of future earnings

Johannesburg – Students across the world, including in South Africa, risk losing $17-trillion (R272-trillion) in lifetime earnings in present value because of Covid-19-related school closures, according to a report published by the World Bank, Unesco and Unicef.

The research found that in South Africa, early-grade pupils suffered learning losses in reading after missing on average 60% of school days last year.

The study further found that second graders experienced losses of between 57% and 70% of a year of learning, while fourth graders experienced losses of between 62% and 81%.

“While girls in South Africa typically outperform boys in reading, evidence indicates that learning losses in English for fourth graders were 27% higher for girls than boys.

“Learning losses for girls were 20% and 27% higher than for boys in home language and English reading, respectively, in grade 4; and girls lost nine words per minute in reading speed, versus six words per minute for boys.”

Jaime Saavedra, World Bank global director for education, said simulations estimating that school closures had resulted in significant learning losses were now being corroborated by real data.

“For example, regional evidence from Brazil, Pakistan, rural India, South Africa and Mexico shows substantial losses in maths and reading.

“Analysis shows that in some countries, on average, learning losses are roughly proportional to the length of the closures.

“Children from low-income households, children with disabilities and girls were less likely to access remote learning than their peers. This was often due to lack of accessible technologies and the availability of electricity, connectivity, and devices, as well as discrimination and gender norms.”

Sunday World reported last week that data from Statistics South Africa 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% last year.

The data also showed that compared to 2019, a higher 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.

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