Our country of lost children

2013-01-06 10:02

It’s been a week of mixed emotions for South Africa’s latest crop of matriculants. There was a great deal of elation – a pass rate of 73.9%, another steady step forward on what has been one of the country’s rockiest roads since 1994.

Some celebrated astonishing feats – 10 distinctions, many scoring 100% for individual subjects – the kind of success stories that fill the pages of newspapers and add extra shine to schools’ marketing material.

Others achieved against all odds, and we celebrated with them too. For still others, their achievements may have looked modest on paper but they meant the world to the youngsters clutching their sheaf of results. Sometimes they are the first in their families to obtain a matric certificate, and now they are ready to take another step forward into tertiary education.

But, of course, there was also sadness and condemnation. Sadness for those who failed and must now either try again or, as may more often be the case, give up entirely. The condemnation was for those schools, districts or provinces whose results were poor and whose matrics routinely round out the bottom of the results table.

The debates will continue for a few weeks, and will erupt all over again next January when the next set of results are released.

In the meantime, there are other battles to be fought.

Startling Census data reveals that hundreds of thousands of South African children who ought to, by law, be sitting at school desks and sweating over sums, are instead sitting at home. KwaZulu-Natal alone accounts for 106?835 children aged between seven and 15 who are not attending school.

This means that while we celebrate and debate the other end of the spectrum – those who have completed 12 hard years of schooling – we are ignoring a generation of children who will not, in a few years’ time, excitedly buy newspapers and scan them for their names when January rolls around and matric results are released.

What becomes of these lost children? Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga is aware of the problem, but can one woman or even an army of her officials make any real difference?

When will South Africans – all of us, whether we’re parents, neighbours, friends or government officials – start taking our children’s education truly seriously?

It is time to find the lost children and lead them into the light.

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