Learning losses from COVID-19 in the Western Cape; evidence from systemic tests

Auteur(s) : van der Berg, Servaas ; Hoadley, Ursula ; Galant, Jaamia ; van Wyk, Chris ; Böhmer, Bianca

Organisation(s): Research on Socio Economic Policy, RESEP (South Africa); Stellenbosch University (South Africa)

Date: 2022

Pages: 93 p.


Most learners in South African schools missed at least three-quarters of a school year over the course of 2020 and 2021, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, lockdowns, school closures and rotational timetables that were introduced to maintain social distancing in classrooms. These lost school days are known to have affected learning, but lack of data has thus far limited attempts at measuring learning losses. The only two studies measuring learning loss thus far were limited to small samples of learners in relatively poor schools, to reading and only to the lower grades. This study considers a larger sample, virtually all public schools in the Western Cape, across Grades 3, 6 and 9 in both Language and Mathematics, comparing 2021 performance with that in 2019. It thus offers a more comprehensive picture of learning losses that also has relevance in other parts of South Africa, particularly when also considering patterns across quintiles and schools with different language policies. The findings are extremely concerning: Losses in Mathematics tend to be the largest (consistent with international experience), and even when using a relatively conservative measure (assuming that a year’s learning is as much as 40% of a standard deviation in primary and 30% in secondary schools), the losses indicate that learners in 2021 had fallen more than a year of learning behind learners in the same grade in 2019. In Language, losses are smaller, around three-quarters of a year equivalent in terms of learning.

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