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SA’s education system was struggling to deliver the basics even before Covid-19 struck. Barely one in five children could read for meaning by the end of grade 4, only 42% of the children who were in grade 2 in 2009 passed matric a decade later, and SA ranked near the bottom of international tests for maths and language.

The pandemic amplified all those problems. Worse still, it hit children from poor households hardest of all. Research has steadily accumulated during the past year confirming the worst fears of critics who questioned the government’s decision to maintain school closures and rotational learning long after other parts of the economy opened up. Pupils lost an estimated 155 school days in 2020 and 2021, roughly three-quarters of a school year...

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