The Covid-19 Epidemic And Primary School Education III – Remote Learning

This is the third of a series considering the delivery of education during Covid-19. It considers remote learning as a complement to contact learning until a time when we have reached recovery from the virus.


Unfortunately, schools have lost 60% of contact learning time, especially in Quantile 1 to 3 schools.[1] The virus is unpredictable. The Department of Basic Education has developed an approach to school attendance in accordance with the general lockdown levels. It has found that there is differences between schools, creating a lack of uniformity in contact teaching time. While it is willing to put some areas on alert level 1 and 2 and accept learners on a full-time basis, other areas are hot spots, varying from wave to wave.[2]

The World Health Organisation (WHO) says that infection amongst children is not yet fully understood and that infections amongst teenagers seems serious and may have long-term effects.[3] Individual students are missing school time due to actual illness or the need to quarantine after contact with a carrier. We need a programme that will keep students up to date during their quarantine.

Remote learning

Some quantile 4 and 5 (i.e. fee- paying) schools have implemented remote learning mechanisms that include Google Classrooms, Zoom and Microsoft MS Teams classroom and they often use other less formal mechanisms like emails to share homework and other activities. But quantile 1 to 3 schools have not been able to implement such an approach for reasons of poverty, and inability to access electronic devices and the internet. Some families have lost their income and have had to rely on grants, and some schools in quantile 4 had to be reclassified into the lower quantiles of no-fee paying schools. This is indicative of the impact of Covid-19 on household income and accessibility of education.[4]

Policy directions

The budget for basic education should move in the direction of ensuring efficient remote primary school learning at least for the next two years. The opportunity was missed last year, but it can still be achieved for quantile 1 to 3 schools. The lesson to be learned from quantiles 4 and 5 schools is that remote learning is resource intensive. For quantile 1 to 3 schools, a budget needs to be available for electronic devices with documents uploaded to them and with the capacity to download from the internet.

The government has adopted a brilliant programme that requires simple coordination with the contact learning. This programme is broadcast on SABC TV channels and 13 radio channels.[5] But it operates in isolation from the contact programme, and it has lost participation from learners. It is commendable, but it requires supporting resources and curriculum planning. It should be treated as complementary to contact learning. It should be supplemented by delivery of resources to students at home to minimise contact at schools or collection at schools and it must be monitored along with Covid-19 protocols.


This long-term approach to an originally short-term goal would minimise the risk of contracting the virus. The effects of Covid-19 will impact us for many years to come.[6] Whilst it is recognised that there are important budgetary and logistical issues for the national and provincial Departments if this approach is to be followed, the impact on Quantile 1 to 3 schools is severe, long-term and must not beunderestimated.

Mihloti Basil Sherinda
Legal Researcher


[2] Ibid.



[5] Please take note that the programme has been strictly implemented since alert level 2 in September 2021. It is recommended that the programme must be prioritised for future learning.