Almost 88% of matric pupils back in classrooms in Western Cape

The number of Grade 12 pupils who have returned to classrooms in the Western Cape during the national lockdown has almost doubled – increasing from 44.4% to 87.9%.

"Attendance has generally improved since schools reopened in June, taking into account the phasing-in of grades. The increase in matric attendance specifically, is encouraging," Kerry Mauchline, spokesperson for Education MEC Debbie Schäfer, told News24 on Wednesday.

"Our matrics must be at school every single day for the rest of the year, as we will not be able to catch up [on] missed concepts with them next year as with the other grades. We will shortly be launching a campaign to encourage our matric learners to focus on their learning for the remaining months before their final exams because the 2020 school year is not a lost cause."

Only 32.5% of Grade 7 pupils returned when school resumed on 1 June. In the first week of September, that number increased to 76.5%.

These figures are for physical attendance at school at least once during the week, Mauchline said.

"Attendance figures exclude those learners who are legitimately staying home because their parents applied for a concession due to comorbidities, or because they are anxious about Covid-19," she said.

Pupils who display any Covid-19 symptoms have been asked to stay at home.

Some schools have grades or classes alternating attendance on a weekly basis, Mauchline said.

"In other words, low attendance for a grade in one week could be due to a number of schools having that grade scheduled to be at home for the week," she said.

Some schools have also been able to provide online learning and pupils using this option are not recorded in attendance figures.

"When some of the grades returned, we were still approaching the peak in cases, so generally people were more concerned about the pandemic. With the move to Alert Level 2 and the announcement that we have passed the peak, parents were more comfortable sending their children back to school," she said.

"Deliberate misinformation" in claims made by various political parties, organisations and activist groups that schools were too dangerous to attend, "despite scientific evidence showing the contrary", also affected attendance.

"These counterproductive activities also tapered off once the country moved to Level 2 so we saw more learners returning. When we were able to issue statistics showing that there was no evidence of spread in schools, that could have allayed some fears."

Interrupted momentum may also have played a role in the attendance figures, she added.

"We had just started to get into the swing of things in July when schools were suddenly closed again, entirely against the advice of medical experts and the Ministerial Advisory Committee. This disrupted the return of grades and further demotivated some of our learners."

Mauchline said evidence from other epidemics and natural disasters which caused long school closures indicated that it was difficult to keep pupils engaged at home for so long and that dropout rates increased.

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