Pupils bunking classes to hang around shebeens and taverns is a common problem for township schools, says the department of basic education.City Press drove around Soweto to see if this was the case in Gauteng. We found pupils hanging around fancy cars, such as Volkswagen hatchbacks, sedans and double-cab bakkies, parked at shebeens and taverns during and after school. The most affected schools were those near drinking spots. Driving through Langlaagte in Johannesburg on Friday, we found pupils standing in groups near a tavern hardly 500m away from a school. While they did not enter liquor outlets, it was obvious by the branded alcohol bottles that they were holding that they had consumed alcohol.Confidence Dikgole, director of policy and government relations at the Independent Schools Association of Southern Africa, said the problem did not affect only public schools, but also private or independent schools. Dikgole, who is also deputy chairperson of the National Association of Independent Schools, said he knew about schools located in business complexes that had restaurants legally selling liquor. Interventions by the association included finding a compromise with the department of trade and industry to encourage such businesses to operate at certain times of the day to ensure that teaching and learning were not affected.According to a report by the Parliamentary Monitoring Group, dated August 15 2015, officials from the department of basic education told the parliamentary portfolio committee on education that the close proximity of liquor outlets, such as taverns or shebeens, to schools was a serious concern.The report expressed frustration at how easily local municipalities granted licences to tavern owners, despite the taverns being opposite school gates in some instances.It also stated that tavern owners appealed to the department when their licences were revoked, pleading their right to trade.It highlighted the lack of coherent policy and collaboration between government departments and agencies to deal with the licensing of taverns within the proposed 500m distance from schools.It noted that the matter had been discussed in Cabinet, where the need to enforce by-laws for businesses was emphasised.Negative effect on learning and teachingIn the Northern Cape, Education MEC Martha Bartlett said her department was struggling to deal with social ills affecting pupils in the province because of liquor outlets. She said pupils went to taverns after school and parents needed to take responsibility for their children’s actions. This comes after her department probed allegations that 30 pupils were impregnated by teachers at a rural school near Kuruman. It found, among other things, that alcohol abuse and the proximity of schools to liquor outlets had a negative effect on learning and teaching.Bartlett said the province had, in the past, launched campaigns aimed at children about the effects of alcohol and drugs on learning.“We are meeting with the Liquor Board as the taverns are creating problems, especially those that don’t adhere to the code of conduct,” Bartlett said.The basic education department did not respond to questions sent by City Press on the matter.Gauteng education department spokesperson Steve Mabona said there were still schools located next to liquor outlets.However, the province had reached an agreement with shebeen owners not to sell to pupils. Mabona said the department was dealing with illegal shebeens and those situated next to schools or churches. Raids were ongoing and conducted in conjunction with Gauteng’s department of community safety and Liquor Board officials.Department spokesperson Bongani Lukhele said regulating liquor sales and liquor outlets was the job of provincial authorities.