South Africa is among 40% of the world’s developing countries which failed vulnerable pupils during the Covid-19 pandemic.
This is according to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation in its fourth annual Global Education Monitoring report.
Research monitored progress in 209 countries in achieving the education targets adopted by UN member states in the 2030 agenda for sustainable development.
One of the highlighted issues was the heightened inequality which emerged from the pandemic, which governments were still grappling with.
The report said 258 million children were entirely excluded from education, with poverty as the main obstacle to access.
In low- and middle-income countries, adolescents from the richest 20% of all households were three times as likely to complete lower secondary school as were as those from the poorest homes.
The report pointed out that Education Minister Angie Motshekga failed on a number of promises and needs for pupils during the lockdown.
It said while the department aimed to ensure each school had at least one teacher trained to screen and support students, this target was not met.
South Africa, according to the report, had also failed to implement its own anti-discrimination and desegregation policies, because principals had autonomy to determine catchment boundaries. In Johannesburg, this was a factor in increased exclusion of poor suburban children from better-performing schools.
Lack of certain resources blocked many pupils from accessing e-learning services, leaving thousands at risk of not completing the school year.
But the Congress of South African Students (Cosas) said government had coped relatively well compared with its peers on the continent and should be applauded for its efforts, while it had much to improve upon. This was according to Cosas secretary-general Tebogo Magafane.
“Remember, we are dealing with the common enemy that is Covid-19 and we must first understand that youth unemployement is high in our country and education is the only way we will deal with this challenge,” he said.
“We must applaud government for the way it has handled itself during this crisis, especially at pre-tertiary level. That being said, we still do not support the schools being closed, because the majority of the people infected are not in this category.”
Magafane said public response to the pandemic had seen the spread of fear, which may be behind government’s reluctance to fully open the school system.
Now that pupils were confined to their homes for months, inequalities have presented themselves more intensely between those who could afford to learn from home and those ill-equipped to do so.