Due to the pandemic, South African school children have missed at least three-quarters of a school year in the past two calendar years. That has had a considerable impact on how much they could learn and affected children in different circumstances differently. RESEP has undertaken a major study on such learning losses, in collaboration with the Western Cape education department and with financial support of the Millennium Trust. In this research we analysed the 2021 Western Cape systemic tests in mathematics and language in grades 3, 6 and 9 and compare the results to the tests written in 2019. For this analysis we only considered those questions which were common in these two exams. This study offers the first comprehensive picture of the long-term effects of the pandemic on learning outcomes across a whole province, in both poor and rich schools. The results are extremely concerning.
The study is the largest of its kind in South Africa and probably one of the largest in any low or middle income country. This new study investigated performance of around 80 000 learners in each of the three grades that were tested. This makes it comparable to the few international studies of this kind that have been undertaken, mainly in rich countries.
As this is the first study on learning losses across the spectrum for large numbers of learners, it offers a perspective on the possible size of learning losses across the country for similar schools. The findings are important for all those with an interest in education, from the national Department of Basic Education to provincial departments of education, district officials, school principals and teachers. The results are also, of course, of major concern for parents. As these tests were conducted in both mathematics and language, they offer a perspective on learning losses in subjects that form the foundation for learning in most other subjects, both in school and beyond.