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Vaccines, food security and learning losses highlighted in latest COVID study
Author: Corporate Communication & Marketing / Korporatiewe Kommunikasie & Bemarking [Alec Basson]
Published: 27/05/2021

​​Researchers from ReSEP (Research on Socioeconomic Policy) in the Department of Economics at Stellenbosch University (SU) contributed significantly to Wave 4 of the National Income Dynamics Study Coronavirus Rapid Mobile Survey (NIDS-CRAM) that was released recently. They helped to produce 11 Working Papers that capture the findings of data collected for this wave of NIDS-CRAM which is a broadly nationally representative survey of the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on South Africans.

As part of NIDS-CRAM Wave 4, data on vaccines, employment, schooling, hunger, and early childhood development was collected between 2 February and 10 March this year and 5629 successful interviews were conducted. In a Synthesis Report, the seven main findings are grouped in the following five categories: vaccines, education, employment, early childhood development and hunger. The findings are as follows:

  • Vaccines: Seventy-one percent of South African adults say they would get vaccinated if a COVID-19 vaccine was available. Those most at risk of COVID-19 (those with chronic conditions and the elderly) were more willing than the general population to accept a vaccine. The youth (18-25) and those who trust social media as an information source were more likely to be vaccine-hesitant.

  • Learning losses: In 2020, South African primary school children in no-fee schools have learnt 50-75% less than what they normally learn. This comes from assessment data from no-fee primary schools in Mpumalanga (130 schools, EGRS II) and the Eastern Cape (57 schools, Funda Wande) collected in 2020 and 2021 as part of independent evaluations of these programs.
  • Vaccines: 42% of Afrikaans home language respondents were vaccine-hesitant, much higher than the national average (29%) and significantly higher than 7 of the 11 language groups.  Although NIDS-CRAM is not provincially representative, in light of the language results and the predominance of Afrikaans in the Western Cape and Northern Cape, it is also clear that respondents from these provinces had higher vaccine hesitancy on average.
  • School feeding and rotational timetables: Less than half of children (43%) received - free school meals in February and March 2021, showing receipt is still well below pre-pandemic levels (65%), and possibly even November/December 2020 levels (49%). NIDS-CRAM Wave 3 (November 2020) showed that the majority of parents and caregivers in South Africa (58%) agreed that children should be able to attend school every day, rather than rotational timetables which are still in place in most no-fee schools.
  • Teacher mortality:  Analysis of national teacher payroll data (PERSAL) shows that teacher deaths during COVID-19 are not related to school re-opening/closing dates, and instead closely follow population COVID-19 mortality trends.
  • Child hunger: Weekly child hunger has declined from 16% in November/December to 14% in February/March 2021, although this new rate (12%) is still nearly double pre-pandemic levels (8%).
  • Food insecurity: NIDS-CRAM respondents have been surveyed four times since the start of the pandemic. Two-thirds of respondents (67%) reported that their household had run out of money to buy food in the previous month in at least one of these surveys. Nearly half (47%) had run out at least two times.  Among households with children in them, one-third (32%) reported that a child went hungry in the past week in at least one of the four waves of NIDS-CRAM.  Analysis of hunger in Wave 1 (2020) showed that after controlling for race, gender, education and location, the strongest predictor of household hunger was whether the household lost its main source of income.

According to the Co-Principal Investigator of NIDS-CRAM and Senior Researcher within ReSEP, Dr Nic Spaull, the NIDS-CRAM results show that the effects of the pandemic are far-reaching and ongoing.

He says that while the focus of Wave 4 was on vaccines, they also felt it was important to foreground the extent of learning losses in South African schools.

“This was the first time that the results of independent assessments of primary school learning outcomes have been available, reflecting on learning losses during 2020. What it shows was that children learnt 50–75% less in 2020 compared to 2019. That is devastating. We are also starting to see the flattening of learning trajectories.

“What most people don't realise is that those learning losses are still growing even as we speak. More than 70% of SA schools are still practicing rotational timetables where only 50% of kids go to school on any one day. That means that the other half don't get free school meals and continue to experience severe learning losses."

Spaull adds that the evidence on teacher mortality using payroll data also showed that while there have been excess teacher deaths in 2020 compared to 2019, they follow the overall population trends and are unrelated to school opening/closing dates.

“This suggests that schools are not sites of transmission and that all schools should fully re-open as quickly as possible."

Results from NIDS-CRAM Waves 1, 2 and 3 have influenced government decisions in a number of areas, including social grant roll-out, provision of school meals for children while schools were closed, as well as attempts to feed the hungry.

Researchers from the Universities of Cape Town (UCT), Johannesburg, the Witwatersrand, Pennsylvania as well as the Department of Basic Education and Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) contributed to NIDS-CRAM Wave 4.

Financial support for NIDS-CRAM is provided by the Allan & Gill Gray Philanthropy, FEM Education Foundation and the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation, while the Southern Africa Labour and Development Research Unit at UCT is responsible for data collection and quality control.