Rally To Read has enjoyed remarkable success since it was launched in 1998 to counter the collapse in education at rural primary schools. Picture: SUPPLIED
Rally To Read has enjoyed remarkable success since it was launched in 1998 to counter the collapse in education at rural primary schools. Picture: SUPPLIED

Children in rural areas have always been at an educational disadvantage because of poor school facilities. Now a new report says those who have missed schooling during the Covid pandemic may face a lifetime of "lower educational outcomes and earnings".

A study of no-fee primary schools in Mpumalanga and the Eastern Cape has revealed that pupils missed up to 76% of their basic education in 2020 because of school closures and "rotational learning" — when, to maintain social distancing in the classroom, each child attended school only once or twice a week.

Unlike many children in urban areas, they were unable to make up the difference with home schooling due not only to a lack of technology, but also of adults to tutor them.

None of this will come as a surprise to sponsors of Rally to Read, the rural education programme that has been uplifting rural primary schools since 1998. What it will do, we hope, is encourage them to strive harder to ensure the progress they have enabled so far can be maintained.

The need for generous sponsorship is greater than it has ever been.

Through the provision of teaching materials and teacher training, Rally to Read has transformed hundreds of schools across SA and brought literacy into the lives of hundreds of thousands of children. Each school is supported for three years — the time it takes to establish a culture of reading and writing. Progress is monitored continuously by the Read Educational Trust NGO.

The programme is currently supporting groups of schools in KwaZulu-Natal, the Western Cape, Free State, Mpumalanga and Eastern Cape.

The average 14-year-old in rural SA has a reading age of seven. Rally to Read bridges that gap at its partner schools, allowing children to pass seamlessly into high school and beyond.

Covid threatens that progress.

In 2020, learners in grades 1-5 lost 60% of their potential 198 school days. Grade 4 children in Mpumalanga schools missed 76% of home language lessons

The scale of the challenge is shown in a report published this month by the National Income Dynamics Study-Coronavirus Rapid Mobile (Nids-Cram) Survey. Compiled by researchers from Cape Town, Stellenbosch and Wits universities, it paints a dismal picture of the pandemic’s effect on no-fee primary schools.

Previous studies have shown that, even before Covid, about 78% of SA children were unable to read with "adequate comprehension" by grade 4. It’s no wonder that the department of basic education has described the worsening situation as "devastating".

The Nids-Cram report says that in 2020, learners in grades 1-5 lost 60% of their potential 198 school days. Grade 4 children in Mpumalanga schools missed 76% of home-language lessons and 48% of English as the main secondary language.

In simple terms, says the report: "Learners learnt roughly a quarter of what they could have learnt for home language and just about half of what they could have learnt for English."

The continuation of rotational learning in 2021 means the problem is likely to continue.

For many children, it’s the classroom or nothing. The report says: "While in other contexts, learning at home or accessing education virtually is possible, in the socioeconomic context of SA, school-based classrooms are where almost all curricular learning happens for most learners."

The report says the situation could set back previous early-grade reading improvements by 10 years or more.

"More worryingly," it adds, "the children whose early learning has been negatively affected by the extraordinary disruption to schooling may never recover what was lost. International studies of disasters that have caused similar disruptions to schooling have shown lifelong negative impacts."

None of this deters Rally to Read organisers, including the FM. Instead, they are increasing efforts not only to maintain support for schools already in the programme, but also take it to new ones.

Rally to Read has been successfully fighting SA’s rural education crisis for 23 years. For much of that time, it has been the only hope for many remote schools.

Co-founder and national committee chair Brand Pretorius says: "The fact that Covid has deepened the crisis is no reason to take a step back. Rather, it’s a time for us and our sponsors to redouble our efforts and protect the children who are our future."

For more information or to become a sponsor, visit www.rallytoread.org.za, or contact Brand Pretorius on 082-455-2020 or brand@brandpretorius.com

subscribe

Would you like to comment on this article or view other readers' comments?
Register (it’s quick and free) or sign in now.

Speech Bubbles

Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.