Education’s Covid hangover far from over; mitigation of learning deficit critical said principal.

Johannesburg: The pandemic’s impact on education is far from over, said St Martin’s School principal Warren Venter. The deficit, he said, must be liquidated as soon as possible to protect an entire generation from dangerous regression.

In remedy, the school developed personalised ‘catch-up’ curricula for learner sets that were identified as somewhere on the spectrum of an education deficit. Venter said that St Martin’s School has developed compulsory intra and extra mural sessions across all grades to address gaps in education, including addressing learners’ ability to focus and function effectively within a scholastic environment.

“It’s a programme that I feel all schools must adopt to avoid a problem that could recur as each learner progresses to successive grades. It has to be nipped in the butt, because South Africa cannot afford to graduate students with unsuitably developed skills. The knock-on effect on future growth could be dire,” Venter warned.

He listed mathematics and literacy as the two primary deficits.

Recently, South Africans were shocked to learn that Grade 4 learners struggled to read with meaning. But Venter said that the problem stretches through to matriculants, too. He said a direct line can be drawn between much of the country’s reading with meaning challenges and the pandemic, too.

Venter noted three primary reasons for the lag. “While there was no alternative, online learning became the go-to for families. It played a crucial role, but anecdotal evidence suggested that students were struggling to focus. Online learning is usually paired with multi-tasking and attention and focus on subject matter being taught often lacked the intensity required.”

He also listed social media as a thorn in learning’s side. “It proved to be a massive distraction during the pandemic, and it continues to be an attention segue for students today,” he said. It then translated to the classroom, as lockdown restrictions waned, creating challenges in concentration, reading and digestion of learning materials.

It’s been just over a year since South Africa lifted all lockdown restrictions, and Venter said that understanding the enormous impact of the pandemic has only recently started to come to the fore.

St Martin’s School plans to continually assess learners on their catch-up journey. Venter said that while some of the picture has emerged, he expects it to still take some time to fully unfold.

“Intervention is the only way to assess, understand and remedy a situation. Notwithstanding other challenges, the deficit hangover could become one of the biggest crises in education in the history of the country. Addressing it through individualization and group remedy, is the only path ahead,” he said.

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