NIDS-CRAM findings reinforce the need for a national catch-up plan

A 15-year-old from Ottery tells us that being at home while schools were closed, had been difficult. Although she picked up worksheets from her school, she found it difficult to adjust to at-home learning.

The results of Wave 4 of the National Income Dynamics Study Coronavirus Rapid Mobile Survey (NIDS-CRAM) were released this month. The findings of the survey show how disrupted schooling has affected access to school meals, learning trajectories, and gaps in learning[1]

Children in Grade 4 experienced overall learning losses of 79% in their Home Language (HL) and 52% in English as First Additional Language (EFAL). Prior to the pandemic, learners in Grade 4 were already struggling with foundational literacy[2]

Summary of NIDS-CRAM Wave 4 findings for schooling:
  • Less than half of children (43%) received free school meals in February and March 2021;
  • Children in no-fee schools have learnt 50-75% less in 2020 compared to what they normally learn;
  • Due to school closures and rotational timetables, learning trajectories are flattening.

What does this mean for school dropout?

One of the expected long-term effects of Covid-19 disruptions to education is an increase in school dropout worldwide. This is of deep concern in South Africa, where rates of dropout are already high. Covid-19 school closures, together with the economic effects of the pandemic, both widened and deepened the cracks learners must traverse on the path to school completion.

Gaps in foundational learning can catch up to learners in later grades. In South Africa, eight out of 10 Grade 4 learners cannot read for meaning in any language. Without the foundational skills to grasp the curriculum, many learners get lost, long before reaching matric, and have often repeated a grade.

High repetition leads to many learners being over-aged for their class, which is linked to learner dropout in high school[3] Those learners that make it to their final three years of schooling have often endured years of struggling to catch up with their peers; more than half have repeated at least one grade. 

What can we do to help?

Before the pandemic, schooling was already characterised by too little learning, high levels of inequality, and regular disruption. Now, more than ever, we need a national, comprehensive response to school dropout that includes a national catch-up strategy attuned to the diverse needs of learners.

We need to meet learners at their level and respond to their needs. Where possible, plans to recover lost learning, through accelerated catch-up programmes, for example, should be tailored to learners’ needs, rather than their age or grade.