‘No money means no school’

2013-07-07 14:00

Half a million youngsters have fallen through the cracks

Thousands of children who should be in school say they can’t go to class because they have no money.

This is despite most of South Africa’s public schools being categorised as “no fee”, and the department of basic education’s obligation to provide free or heavily subsidised transport, stationery, books and food.

The department last month published a survey about schooling across the country titled General Household Survey: Focus on Schooling.

In the report, which contains data collected by the department and Stats SA during 2011, it emerged that 20 000 children who – by law – must be in school are not. The SA Schools Act requires that children aged seven to 15 must attend school.

Furthermore, a massive 480 000 children aged 16 to 18 are not attending school, it says in the report.

About 27% of the 500 000 children not in school cited money as their reason for not being in class.

There are 24 500 public schools in South Africa, and about 15 300, which cater for more than 7 million pupils, do not charge any school fees.

But Equal Education, an NGO working in the education sector, says some of these schools charge what they call a “contribution fee” to help with running costs. The organisation’s deputy general secretary, Doron Isaacs, said: “They put pressure on kids to pay a certain amount. We do get a lot of complaints about that.”

The basic education department’s spokesperson, Panyaza Lesufi, said schools were now classified as “no fee” or “fee paying”.

This replaced the quintile system, in which schools were given a rank of 1 to 5 depending on, among other things, their pupils’ financial circumstances.

Some of the other reasons the 500 000 dropouts gave to the department and Stats SA were:

» Pregnancy;

» Violence;

» Lack of transport;

» Illness;

» Family commitments;

» “I’m too busy”;

» Lack of interest; and

» “Education is useless”

Of those children who were at school, only 6% said a lack of books was one of their biggest obstacles to learning.

This was a great improvement from the 21% who raised similar concerns in the first study of this kind, which was conducted in 2002.

But Nikki Stein of advocacy group Section27, which has been fighting the department over the nondelivery of books in Limpopo, said “the problem is much bigger than the 6%”.

Stein said it was important for every pupil to have a book for every one of their subjects.

“Remember, without textbooks children can’t do homework, they can’t prepare for exams or for the next day’s lesson.”

Schoolgirl pregnancy emerged as a major concern in the report.

In 2011 alone, more than 51 000 girls had already given birth when the survey was conducted. Researchers also found 13 000 girls were pregnant.

“The problem of teenage pregnancy among schoolgirls is a major concern in many countries and a constraint in the elimination of gender disparities in education,” the department said in its report. “The repercussions of girls dropping out of school due to pregnancy cannot be underestimated.”

Stein said it was important for the departments of health and education to work together to offer sex education in schools.

“Condoms should be made available in schools. We need to come to terms with the fact that learners are having sex and that this will not change.”

Limits to learning

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