Should the 2020 academic year be scrapped?

10 Sep 2020

There’s been a debate on whether the 2020 academic year should continue or be scrapped. There have been mixed reactions with some calling for the cancellation of the 2020 academic year. 

With the debate still ongoing, we look at the implications of scrapping the academic year. We also look at the impact this will have on children’s academic progress and social-emotional development.

Chief of Schools at SPARK Schools, Bailey Thomson Blake adds her voice to the matter. Blake argues that scrapping the 2020 academic year would do more harm than good. 

She says, where schools can implement all the health and safety measures required to prevent the transmission of COVID-19, schools should be open to children whose parents want them to attend in-person. 

The Impact of COVID-19 on learning

“While it’s tempting to believe that scrapping the 2020 academic year would somehow set children on equal footing heading to 2020, the truth is that doing so would have disastrous effects,” she says. 

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She further explains that discontinuing the school year would exacerbate existing inequities. 

“We know, from research on the impact of COVID-19 on learning loss by RTI International, that children who are already struggling academically will regress in their learning, an even worse outcome than plateauing,” explains Blake.

She adds that children who are already excelling academically are likely to continue making academic progress at home, opening an already difficult-to-overcome the gap. 

Risk of children’s social-emotional development

“Further, the loss of an instructional year goes beyond a negative impact academically.  There are risks to scholars’ social-emotional development, physical and psychosocial health, and child protection from being out of school for extended periods,” she says. 

In their report  Counting the Cost: COVID-19 school closures in South Africa and its impact on children  Stellenbosch University researchers, Professor Servaas van der Berg and Dr Nic Spaull discovered that one million children were left home alone without a caregiver to look after them, as their parents had to return to work. 

“It is our view that keeping children out of school is not in the best interests of the child. Consequently, all children should return to schools, crèches and ECD centres without any further delay,” says the researchers. 

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They also believe that the longer the schools are closed the further the damage on children, especially younger ones. 

“The profound costs borne by small children and families as a result of the ongoing nationwide lockdown and school closures will be felt for at least the next 10 years,” the researchers state.

While there are mixed reactions to the cancellation of the 2020 academic year, one clear thing is the dire consequences this will have on South African children. 

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