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Using three different studies on early grade reading from no-fee schools across in South Africa, this paper establishes short-term learning losses in reading for grade 2 and 4 students from under-resourced school contexts. We find that in 2020 grade 2 students lost between 57 % and 70 % of a year of learning relative to their pre-pandemic peers. Among a grade 4 sample, learning losses are estimated at between 62 % and 81 % of a year of learning. Considering that in 2020 students in the samples lost between 56 %–60 % of contact teaching days due to school closures and rotational timetabling schedules compared to a pre-pandemic year, this implies learning to schooling loss ratios in the region of 1–1.4. There is some evidence from the grade 4 sample that the reading trajectories of children benefiting more from attending school pre-pandemic – namely girls and children with stronger initial reading proficiency – are more negatively impacted. Mitigating the long-run implications of these learning losses will require a significant pivoting of the education system to ensure that instructional practices are appropriately levelled to optimise learning.


COVID-19, School closure, Learning losses, Early grade reading

International Journal of Educational Development  Volume 86, 2021 102480