The lot of our children is labour not school

2017-03-19 06:01
A little girl clears up the debris after her home and others burnt down during a fire in an informal settlement.

A little girl clears up the debris after her home and others burnt down during a fire in an informal settlement.

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Statistician-General Pali Lehohla proposes that policymakers consider supporting teachers who care for children in rural areas.

After this week’s release of the Survey of Activities of Young People, Lehohla told City Press that schooling for many rural children was disrupted because they were left to fend for themselves, as their parents did not live with them.

The report found glaring differences in the fortunes of children aged seven to 17 living in rural versus urban areas, as well as in children of different races.

Almost 9% of rural children are child labourers, as opposed to 2% of their urban counterparts.

In addition, 28.3% of African children do not live with either of their parents, which the report found had a negative effect on their school attendance. In contrast, more than three quarters (75.6%) of white children live with both parents.

“What is important is to look at the disruptive nature of their lives when it comes to schooling among black children,” said Lehohla.

“There are a lot of chores that children get engaged in, and their living arrangements at home do not promote school attendance.

“Many black children do not stay with their parents. That is a very difficult situation for them, and they need to be supported in terms of their education.”

Lehohla cited the repeated assertion of education policymakers that parents should be more involved in their children’s schooling, saying that, for many, this was simply not possible.

“These people travel long distances or they don’t stay with their children for a variety of reasons – economic or otherwise – and that [involvement in their offsprings’ education] does not happen,” he said.

Lehohla said teachers were becoming the de facto guardians of many rural children with absent parents.

He added that child-rearing and the workload many children experienced at home – 3.1% of children spend more than 15 hours a week on household chores – needed to be addressed.

The report found that 13.7% of children aged between seven and 10 were expected to do their schoolwork, chores around the house and participate in economic activity such as working in the family’s business.

That percentage increases as children get older, reaching up to 27.7% for teens between the ages of 15 and 17. For children whose parents do not live with them, the figure rises to 30.1%.

“This is not going to be won – that is what these numbers are saying. We need to understand, particularly at the education level, that teachers are the parents of these children. When teachers have to do this kind of thing, they need to be supported,” Lehohla said.

The study also found that 29.2% of children skipped school in 2015 because they were involved in economic activities. The figure is down from 35.7% in 2010.

Children aged 16 to 17 were more likely to be engaged in child labour than other age groups, and African children were the worst affected.

Education expert Professor Mary Metcalfe said that, in her interactions with teachers and schools, she also found that a high number of pupils did not live with their parents.

“There is a higher school dropout rate among pupils in homes where parents are not present,” she said.

“I constantly come across schools where the teachers carry the additional responsibility of caring for children – not only because of parental absence, but also because of extreme poverty. Teachers bring toiletries so that children can wash, and food so that children can eat.

“The care given by teachers and the sacrifice that this entails astounds and moves me. It is additional work undertaken because of the teachers’ deep commitment. It deserves greater support.”

Metcalfe said the approach to parental involvement in schools needed to be more responsive to the needs of grandparents, many of whom were their children’s caregivers. She said social workers needed to be reintroduced to schools, but only a few provinces had this category of support staff.

Metcalfe pointed to the need for closer collaboration with the department of social development.

“We need much more support and imaginative responses to the after-school possibilities of care and support,” she said.

“Pupils can be involved in after-school activities that are emotionally nourishing and build confidence, such as sport and a variety of arts and cultural activities.”

"If not us, then who?"

“These children have no one to look after them and we have taken it upon ourselves to reach out to them,” says Nomxolisi Makayi, a matric teacher at Bulelani Senior Secondary School in Queenstown in the Eastern Cape.

Makayi runs a project, funded by teachers’ union Sadtu, which looks after destitute children at Nkos’enomntu Motman Comprehensive School in Whittlesea.

“Some of their parents died, while others went to Cape Town and Bloemfontein for work. We buy clothes, uniforms, food and sanitary towels for girls,” she says.

“They are vulnerable, and teenage pregnancies result because these girls tend to find the warmth they seek in such relationships. Some of them ‘bayathwalwa’ [are abducted and forced into marriages].”

Makayi says branches in each of the six Sadtu regions in the Eastern Cape were instructed to identify a school where they could assist needy pupils.

“The school feeding scheme assists in providing food for these children, but there are instances where teachers have to dig deep in their pockets to provide pupils with something to eat in the morning, such as fruit, while waiting for lunchtime,” she says.

“We have this project because some of the donors only focus on areas close to towns. Although this is a far-flung area, most of these children are interested in education, but they face these challenges.

“We have had to step in, but we need donors to come on board.”

Makayi says although teachers do not live with these children, they provide support where it is needed.

“Social ills are rife and if we do not take note of that, we will have a lost generation,” she says.

"I have to help - it's only fair"

His 18th birthday is four months away and he only finishes high school at the end of the year, but Salim* already has three years of part-time work under his belt.

Every day after school, Salim helps out at his family’s stall in Durban’s central business district, filling in for his parents, who are both in their sixties, and whose entire income is derived from their licensed street table, where they sell everything from loose cigarettes to toiletries.

The Manchester United fan, who wants to be an engineer, helps by packing up stock and storing it for the next day’s business, which starts before 05:30 to catch customers on their way to work.

“I don’t mind helping my parents out. This is our business and I understand that they can’t employ somebody else to help them,” he says. “There are days when I don’t feel like working, but it’s only a few hours every day. I still have time to do my schoolwork, so there’s no problem.

“My big brothers also worked part time to help my parents out in the business when they were still at school. They have their own families now and have their own jobs. Now it’s my turn to do the same thing. It’s only fair.”

Salim says that, while most of his schoolmates don’t have jobs, some do.

“Some of the guys help out in family shops or businesses. Others have part-time jobs,” he says.

His father, Iqbal, has been a hawker for most of his adult life.

“I come from a family where we were all involved in the business from a young age. You help your parents out. You make your bed, clean up after yourself and help with dishes. There’s no such thing as a maid – you do things yourself,” says Iqbal.

“Now my kids have done the same. We can’t afford to pay an outsider to work for us. There’s not a lot of profit here, so whatever we can save helps a lot. What he is doing is a big contribution to the family.” – Paddy Harper

* Not his real name


Read more on:    education  |  labour

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