Foundation phase education at University of Johannesburg (UJ) Soweto Campus Anny Hlapolosa, reads a book for toddlers during the launching a fun new reading initiative aimed at pre- and primary school children to encourage reading for pleasure inside and outside the classroom at Maponya Mall, Soweto. File Picture: Itumeleng English
Foundation phase education at University of Johannesburg (UJ) Soweto Campus Anny Hlapolosa, reads a book for toddlers during the launching a fun new reading initiative aimed at pre- and primary school children to encourage reading for pleasure inside and outside the classroom at Maponya Mall, Soweto. File Picture: Itumeleng English

Concern over Covid-19’s impact on basic education

By Anelisa Kubheka Time of article published Aug 30, 2021

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DURBAN - THE Department of Basic Education is concerned about the impact Covid-19 is having on the foundation phase sector, and teaching and learning losses.

With a high resurgence of infections in KwaZulu-Natal (Phoenix and uMlazi districts), the Free State and Western Cape, the department said it had mechanisms in place to measure the time lost to pupils not being in classrooms because of Covid-19.

Some foundation phase pupils were attending school two to three times a week. University of KwaZulu-Natal education expert Professor Labby Ramrathan said the long-term impact that this would have depended on how things were managed going forward.

Innovative solutions needed to be created to cover lost learning time, he said.

“The curriculum could be changed to focus on key learning areas, instead of a wider range. There are other good innovative solutions out there. The foundation phase has 12 years in the system. Various things can happen in that time."

On Sunday, Minister Angie Motshekga said that the school calendar would not change. This meant a weeklong holiday in October would remain despite discussions by school groups to utilise it for schooling.

To curb the effects of learning losses the department asked, and got the go-ahead from the Department of Health, to reduce the social distance to one metre in schools, where conditions allowed. Attempts to pursue a half-meter approval were halted by the third wave.

“We felt that for now let’s allow the infections to drop, and reconsider if again we can still negotiate reducing space for the foundation phase. Our biggest concern is the foundation phase. If we fail to get them right in their foundation phase, it’s going to be difficult to get it right later.”

Department researcher Professor Martin Gustafsson said that last year about 80% of what children should have learnt in a year was lost, and this year half the year had been lost.

The department said that due to Covid-19 there had been unpredictable school closures, as well as unplanned disruptions to teaching and learning that had reversed the last 20 year’s gains in the sector.

Gustafsson said measures were in place to monitor learning progress.

One was words correct per minute – in the foundation phase children read the same paragraph grade after grade to see if they were reading better, and how many words they were reading correctly. He had looked at Grade 3 in Mpumulanga in the subject of IsiZulu for literacy. “Before Covid-19, 13 words were correct per minute on a specific reading passage. When the same children read this at the end of Grade 3 it’s up 23 words. With the pandemic this was up to 24 – historically data shows it should be 31, so reading progress for those pupils came to a halt in 2020.”

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