By Lehlohonolo Lehana.
Many students in South Africa’s school system have had to repeat a grade, placing significant fiscal strain on the education system.
Speaking to the Sunday Times, researchers from the Research on Socio-Economic Policy (Resep) unit at the University of Stellenbosch estimate that more than half of all pupils in grades 10 to 12 are over-age for their grade.
One in five of these students are over-age by three years or more. The group estimates that the annual cost of having so many repeaters in the system is between R20 billion and R29 billion, as significantly more teachers are needed to teach a larger group of pupils.
If the 56% repetition rate in grade 10 were to halve, the government could save about R2 billion each year alone, they said.
The government’s repetition policy currently states that no child should be held back more than once in any education phase. The researchers said this was particularly problematic in grade 10, where more students get 'stuck' and only a fraction make it to grade 12.
However, the researchers said that this does not keep repetition rates low and that many schools do not always comply with the policy.
Data published by the Telkom Foundation this week shows the Covid-19 pandemic has also hurt school learners in the critical areas of mathematics and science.
The data reveals that the lack of face-to-face learning under lockdown has seen high-school learners regressing.
"The Telkom Foundation has been monitoring data from schools we support across the country since 2018," said Sarah Mthintso, chief executive of the Telkom Foundation.
"Regrettably, we have seen the negative impact of the pandemic – and the unavoidable closure of schools – has had on learning."
Globally, the World Bank estimates that the closure of schools affected 1.6 billion learners. South Africa was among those countries forced to impose strict lockdown conditions, which halted classroom learning.
The Telkom Foundations initial diagnostic assessments conducted with learners in Grade 9 found that several learners had deficiencies in math and science, many of which were carried from the intermediate phase at primary school, impacting their ability to excel in these subjects.
This meant that the Foundation had to focus on both grade-level and remedial approaches to close the gaps. The Grade 9 learners surveyed showed an improvement from a Grade 3 level understanding to a Grade 5 level before the impact of the Covid pandemic.
"Over the years, we have seen learner improvement as a result of this targeted hybrid approach, however with Covid-19 restrictions and learners missing contact learning time, some have regressed in key areas, particularly problem solving, algebra and measurement, "said Mthintso.