16 March 2021

By Steven Lebere, Chief Executive Officer of Adopt-a-School Foundation

The COVID-19 pandemic had a significant impact in 2020 on South Africa’s schooling system.  Schools had to be closed, from the end of March to June, and teaching and learning time was lost. Despite this and other impacts, the matric class of 2020 proved resilient, achieving a 76.2% pass rate. A 5.1% decline from the 2019 results, it was less severe than Adopt-a-School had anticipated. A study it had conducted in 20 high schools in which it works showed deep effects of the pandemic on learning and teaching. The matric performance analysed in 48 of its programme schools showed a decline by 6 % from 2019. Still, this is a pass rate of 80%. The quality of the passes in  terms of qualification for university entrance also did not drop against 2019’s results, remaining consistent at 40%.

Adopt-a-School is a partner entity of Cyril Ramaphosa Foundation and implements a Whole School Development Model in 446 schools currently. Since its establishment in 2002, the Foundation has worked in over 600 schools across all nine provinces of South Africa.

Adopt-a-School’s survey revealed some of the following practical effects of the pandemic on learning and teaching:

  • lost teaching and learning time compromised time normally set for revision;
  • the large gap between terms one and two resulted in learners forgetting term one work by the time schools reopened;
  • contact time continued to be lost when schools closed intermittently because of COVID-19 infections;
  • schools faced staff shortages and inconsistent educator attendance because of infection risk, ill-health, and self-isolation and quarantine;
  • group activities amongst learners and between educators and learners was restricted because of social distancing requirements;
  • educator workloads increased due to content having to be repeated to learners split into smaller classes;
  • learners experienced difficulty in hearing teachers because of social distancing and the masks and face shields worn by teachers;
  • syllabi were completed before learners had understood the content;
  • preliminary examinations were written before all content in some subjects had been covered;
  • difficulty studying at home without educator and peer support;
  • absence of online devices and data, network challenges, and lack of skill in operating online devices.

Learners reported a loss of focus, depression, fatigue and increased pressure and anxiety as a result. Among subjects learners felt most unprepared for in the final examinations, were mathematics, mathematical literacy, accounting, life sciences and physical science. This is presumably because these subjects are done better in with contact teaching.

Schools mitigated the impacts of the pandemic in some of the following ways:

  • the provision of notes, videos, online resources and assessments to learners via Whatsapp;
  • training on ICT integration in teaching through the use of MS Teams training and Google suite training;
  • teaching and learning resources that included easy to understand study and revision packs; and
  • extra lessons during the week and at weekends.

The pandemic further exposes the impact of South Africa’s inequalities on schooling, including in particular its digital divide. Learners from disadvantaged families demonstrably suffered most during the lockdown. Many learners, not only in rural settings but also in large urban areas, lack reliable, affordable internet access needed to aid learning. The pandemic has made online access to learning and teaching essential and urgent. Adopt-a-School has called on the business community to partner with it to provide learners and teachers in its programmes with data, devices and ICT training.

Among other Adopt-a-School recommendations to overcome the challenges to learning and teaching as has been reported, are:

  • pay greater attention to more cost-effective offline content;
  • provide cost-effective e-learning platforms that offer better engagement between educators and learners;
  • encourage study groups on e-learning platforms;
  • complement the Department’s curriculum catch up programme in maths, maths literacy, accounting, life sciences and physical science;
  • offer psychosocial support for teachers and learners.







As is clear, internet access alone is not sufficient to support learning and teaching. Of the learners who reported receiving support at home, this additionally included moral support, space and privacy, exclusion from household chores and private tutors. The absence of such support for many is rooted in socio-economic conditions that require transformation. In the immediate, attention should be paid to how parents and caregivers may be supported. Parents and caregivers are a central and powerful educational partner. This partnership may ensure that even school closures cannot hinder the continued development of learners.

Year on year, from 2015 to 2019, the matric pass rate of schools supported by Adopt-a-School’s Whole School Development programme has successively improved, from 77% in 2015 to 86% in 2019. Indeed, as an external review by Trialogue of Whole School Development implemented at IDC supported schools highlighted in 2018, 80% of respondents indicated that the matric average “had significantly increased” as a result of Adopt-a-School interventions. The decline in the 2020 results is indicative of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, but it is also of the efficacy of a holistic approach to education as implemented by Adopt-a-School. The 80% pass rate by the schools in its programme, 40% of which are bachelor passes, affirms the model against the ravages of the pandemic.

Whole School Development is an integrated and holistic model that addresses the development of effective leadership and management systems, infrastructure, educator skills, and improved learner well-being and safety. The model’s effectiveness is shown in particular in the Free State, where it is implemented by KST, a partnership of Cyril Ramaphosa Foundation, Kagiso Trust and the Free State Department of Education. The Motheo and Fezile Dabi districts where the model is being implemented have consistently been among the top-performing districts nationally, including in 2020.

Against the backdrop of COVID-19 and an unequal and decidedly uncertain world, the future is here. 21st-century learning and teaching calls for the fast-tracking of digital skills and resources and efforts to overcome the digital divide and the other inequalities that impact education. Robust collaboration between Government, the private sector and non-profit organisations is how the holistic development of schools is possible as Adopt-a-School shows. This partnership needs to be sustained and expanded.

Listen to Steven Lebere’s interview with Classic FM below.