Guest Column

How dropout rates are diminishing education as a human right

2018-03-21 09:00

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Jackie Carroll

Almost 24 years after the dawn of democracy in South Africa, several headwinds still face the country in terms of ensuring that education is enshrined as a fundamental human right.

Both the South African Constitution and the United Nations' Universal Declaration of Human Rights make special mentions of education.

Section 29 of the Constitution says every citizen has the right to a basic education and that the state - through reasonable measures - must make it available and accessible. Crucially, this means the state has a duty to respect an individual’s right to education.

Meanwhile, the UN in 1948 drew up the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which said all the world’s citizens have a right to education.

Education forms the basis of development in any country, and in South Africa our government each year allocates the lion's share of its national budget to this very cause.

A big highlight every year in early January is the announcement of the matric pass rate. But despite the 2017 matric pass being 75.1%, the reality of the situation paints a much different picture.

Of the 1 155 629 pupils who started Grade 1 in 2006, only 34.7% obtained a matric pass in 2017, according to data from Africa Check.

In addition, just 40% of 20-year-old respondents in the 2014, 2015 and 2016 General Household Surveys said they had a matric.

When considering that a matric pass is the very basic requirement for anybody seeking a job in South Africa, these statistics paint a very worrying picture.

To start thinking about solving this problem and strengthening the right to education, we need to identify what the key factors are behind this problem.

Key reasons for dropouts

The first key reason behind this high dropout rate includes socio-economic factors that force children to leave school.

This includes children having to leave school in search of work, simply because their families cannot survive otherwise. Child-headed households are still prevalent, where parents have died or left, and children, again, have to leave school to work and fend for their siblings.

Added to this are the other social ills such as drugs or alcohol addiction, and teen pregnancies, exacerbate the country’s pass rate woes.

Another key reason behind dropouts is that many children struggle to see the value of education. This is especially true of children who don’t meet the requirements of their grades and who are progressed or pushed through the educational system by their schools.

In turn, educators often prompt progressed children to leave the system completely - especially at Grade 10 and 11 level - so as not to drag down a school’s matric pass rate.

Many of these children are then persuaded to attend local community centres, but there’s no guarantee that their education needs are then met, and they are at high risk of falling out the system entirely.

Other factors that have a direct impact on our children’s ability to learn and progress through the system include reading comprehension.

Nearly 8 out of 10 children at Grade 4 level cannot read with meaning compared to 4 in 100 internationally, according to a PIRLS study conducted last year.

More than half of South African schools assessed in the PIRLS study also don’t have libraries, while more than half of the children assessed further said that they don’t have books at home.

While reading should be taught and reinforced at school, it also a skill that should be inculcated at homes across the country.

As a society, we need to promote a culture of reading. But this is challenging, especially in a country where many parents, because of apartheid, tragically cannot read themselves.

There is hope

As Media Works, we specialise in helping adults successfully navigate the process towards obtaining their matric qualifications later on in life.

There is hope then for our children who do drop out of the system. But that hope also needs to be tempered with the realism that obtaining a matric after school-leaving age becomes more challenging the longer one waits.

It’s much more difficult to go back and study 10 or 20 years later, but it certainly is possible.

Ensuring education is entrenched as a human right

To the governing ANC's credit, the political party has managed to ensure that more people are included in the net of basic education than ever before.

South Africa needs to move forward in ensuring this net grows, but that, critically, our children receive the highest possible quality education.

The recent move by President Cyril Ramaphosa to call on Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga to phase out pit toilet latrines after the death of a child in the Eastern Cape is encouraging, but much more needs to be done to ensure a dignified environment.

Added to this, dealing with the factors that cause high dropout rates and the social ills around it should be key focus area for South Africa when it comes to ensuring that more of our children benefit from the right to education.

As our great former president, Nelson Mandela, once said: "From the poorest of countries to the richest of nations, education is the key to moving forward in any society."

- Jackie Carroll is the CEO and co-founder of Media Works, the largest private Adult Education and Training provider in South Africa.

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