A pupil is screened before she enters school. Picture: Phando Jikelo/African News Agency (ANA)
A pupil is screened before she enters school. Picture: Phando Jikelo/African News Agency (ANA)

A year of Covid-19 in SA : ’Pandemic has made a broken and unequal education system even worse’

By Zodidi Dano Time of article published Mar 5, 2021

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We examine how the deadly virus has altered South Africa’s education system.

A year into the coronavirus pandemic, here are some of the big changes the education sector had to endure.

As we mark a year since the day South Africa announced its first case of the coronavirus, we take a look at how the deadly virus, which has changed the global community, has affected the country’s education system.

It was nearing the end of the first term, last year, when President Cyril Ramaphosa imposed a national lockdown which commenced on 27 March. It was only on 1 May 2020, that the president gradually eased lockdown restrictions to level 4.

According to the South African executive director of Amnesty International, Shenilla Mohamed, the Covid-19 pandemic further worsened the disparity between rich and poor in the country’s education system.

“The Covid -19 pandemic has made a broken and unequal system even worse, putting students from poorer communities at a huge disadvantage. Remote learning is not an option for the vast majority.”

School closures, forced move to remote learning

When schools first closed in March, for almost three months, the widespread lack of internet access needed for remote study was laid bare.

According to the organisation, nationally, only 22% of households have a computer and 10% an internet connection. In the North West and Limpopo provinces, only 3.6% and 1.6% of households respectively have access to the internet at home.

Matric pupils, in particular, were badly impacted having loss contact learning time which was vital revision time ahead of the National Senior Certificate examination. Exams started late and the results, unlike in previous years when they were released in January, had to be released towards the end of February.

The closure also affected higher education institutions which meant that academic learning was disrupted and exams had to be postponed until the start of 2021 for some students. This meant that the 2021 academic year at the tertiary level would only start in March.

Hybrid model:

Schools have been forced to adapt to the hybrid model, which allows pupils to attend school every second day, halving pupils’ face-to-face learning time. Pupils could do remote learning on the days they were not in class or do work assigned by teachers the previous day.


Amnesty International said thousands of schools in South Africa have no running water – more than half of schools in some regions. Social distancing is also impossible in many schools. A study by Stellenbosch University found at least half of South African pupils would not be able to comply with distancing rules due to overcrowded classrooms.

By the beginning of 2021, it was estimated up to 1700 teachers have lost their lives to Covid-19, more than 300 during the recent school holidays alone.

School calendar:

Since the start of the second term in 2020, there had been a number of amendments done to the school calendar. At first, the department proposed getting the Grade 7s and 12s back at school first. Those dates were pushed back a bit to June 8, in a staggered phase system.

This delayed the third term, fourth term and with the fear of the second wave, the schools reopening was also pushed back by two weeks to February 15 for government schools while private schools opened two weeks earlier.


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