Now, more than ever, is the time to devise a long-term and comprehensive national catch-up strategy that our learners so desperately need, rather than quick-fixes that simply mask the problem.
At implementation level, the strategy needs to make provisions for additional mechanisms for schools to provide individualised learners support and assessment. This could be achieved by strengthening the role played by NGOs and leveraging existing public works programmes.
Khula Development Group, a partner of the Zero Dropout campaign, has shown the effectiveness of assisting schools with learner support. The group has been working with primary schools learners in Paarl to ensure they have a nurturing adult present in their lives and a personalised catch-up curriculum.
Moreover, learning barriers are identified as a stumbling block: those with severe learning disabilities are helped until they can be referred to a special or skills school.
The results have proven that the longer a learner was in this programme the greater the gains in their overall wellbeing in Grade 12, including educational outcomes. It also shows why we need a robust referral system to expedite learners’ access to additional support measures.
Lastly, existing initiatives such as public works programmes and the National Youth Service could be used to provide much-needed additional human resources within the education system. Community Work Programme workers have been increasing access to early childhood development through NGO partners such as Nal’ibali.
These initiatives can be an effective win-win for the country: schools would gain administrative support while young people would be provided with work experience and a career pathway.
In the meantime, we must ensure that we are using every available resource to bring some learning and intellectual stimulation to children who are not in school. As we write, there are many local educational websites that are on the official zero-rated list, but have yet to be zero-rated by mobile network operators. Each day without any education erodes our children’s prospects just that bit more.
Minister Angie Motshekga admitted that the pandemic is forcing the Department to ‘re-engineer’ the education system. Beyond Covid-19, this is the opportunity our system has needed for a long time. Policymakers should use it wisely to implement urgent reforms that benefit all of our learners.
Kristal Duncan-Williams is the Project Lead of Youth Capital, a youth-led campaign with an Action Plan for change that combines data with young people’s lived stories to shift gears on youth unemployment. Find out more at https://youthcapital.co.za
Merle Mansfield is the Programme Director of Zero Dropout, a national campaign working towards halving the rate of school dropout by 2030. Find out more at http://zerodropout.co.za
This article originally appeared on News24.