COVID-19 pushes inequality in schools to crippling new level in South Africa – Report


South Africa’s schools has plunged further into crisis due to the COVID-19 pandemic that exposes  how the country’s education system continues to be shaped by the legacy of apartheid, said a new report by Amnesty International.

The report, titled ‘Failing to learn lessons: The impact of COVID-19 on a broken and unequal education system,’ showed the government cannot provide a safe learning environment amid the pandemic.

The report highlights how students from poorer communities have been cut off from education during extended school closures, in a country where just 10% of households have an internet connection.

Meanwhile, historic underinvestment and the government’s failure to address existing inequalities has resulted in many schools not having running water or proper toilets whilst struggling with overcrowded classrooms.

“A child’s experience of education in South Africa is still dependent on where they are born, how wealthy they are, and the colour of their skin,” said Shenilla Mohamed, Executive Director of Amnesty International South Africa.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has made a broken and unequal system even worse, putting students from poorer communities at a huge disadvantage. Remote learning is not an option for the vast majority”.

“South Africa’s schooling system is so under-equipped that the pandemic has all but ended education for many students, especially those from already disadvantaged communities,” Mohamed continued.

Amnesty International’s report is based on extensive desk research, including analysis of statistical data and institutional studies and surveys, between March 2020 and February 2021.

The education system in South Africa continues to be shaped by the legacy of apartheid. Previous research by Amnesty International showed communities continue to live with the consequences of political and economic decisions made during the apartheid era, with schools serving white communities have much better resource.

When schools first closed in March, for almost three months, the widespread lack of internet access needed for remote study was laid bare.

By contrast, students from wealthier communities with computer access have been able to continue their education particularly through remote learning provided by better resourced schools.

Further school shutdowns came in July 2020 and January 2021. The closures not only interrupted learning, but also severely affected access to food for around nine million students who depend on school meals for their daily nutrition. The situation became so bad that NGOs were forced to go to court to compel the government to resume the National School Nutrition Programme.

When schools have been open, hazardous and unhygienic conditions have prevented them from meeting basic COVID-safe requirements. Thousands of schools in South Africa have no running water.

Social distancing is also impossible in many schools. One study by Stellenbosch University found that at least half of South African learners would not be able to comply with distancing rules due to overcrowded classrooms. (Source: Amnesty Intl.)