SA’s lost children

Hundreds of thousands, by law, should be at school – they’re not

Startling figures contained in the Census 2011 data reveal that in KwaZulu-Natal alone, 106?830 children aged between seven and 15 were not attending school.

According to the South African Schools Act, children must be enrolled in school between these ages.

They may leave school only once they have turned 16 or have completed Grade 9.

But the law is being flouted all over the country.

KwaZulu-Natal’s figure – which represents 5.75% of children in that age group in the province – is the highest, followed by the remaining provinces:

»?The Northern Cape – with the country’s smallest population, 9?087 children or 4.6% of that age group were not at school;

»?The North West – 23?754, or 4.28% of children in that age group, were not at school;

»?The Western Cape – 32?600, or 4.12% of children in that age group, were not at school;

»?The Eastern Cape – 45?621, or 3.68% of children in that age group, were not at school;

»?Gauteng – 50?705, or 3.41% of children in that age group, were not at school;

»?The Free State – 13?614, or 3.68% of children in that age group, were not at school;

»?Mpumalanga – 21?494, or 3.03% of children in that age group, were not at school; and

»?Limpopo – 18 939, or 1.85% of children in that age group, were not at school.

In a single district, KwaZulu-Natal’s Kwa Sani, 20.96% of its 1?598 children aged between seven and 15 were not enrolled when the census data was collected.

Other districts where high numbers of pupils were not attending school included the Western Cape’s Kannaland, where 15.36% of the area’s 4?140 children aged between seven and 15 were not in school, and KwaZulu-Natal’s Impendle.

In Impendle, 13.28% of 7?072 children aged seven to 15 were not in school.

It’s not clear how many of these children have never attended school and how many dropped out of the system after a few years.

Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga says the government is stepping up measures to try to lower the country’s dropout rate.

Currently, only 65% of pupils who enter the schooling system remain in it.

Motshekga said the education system retained about 98.2% of the children who entered it until the age of 16.

It was then that many of them started dropping out because of social pressures, including criminality, alcohol and sex.

“But some of the reasons are academic. If you look at our results for Grade 9s, our failure rate is a bit too high,” Motshekga told City Press on Friday.

“We have a failure rate of almost 10%, which means some kids

repeat grades. And by the time they reach age 16 they don’t have any patience for anything that challenges their self-esteem.”

Motshekga said one of government’s interventions was to try to keep the failure rate low by improving the quality of teaching.

She also praised initiatives by the Western Cape provincial government, which is discouraging the employment of 16- to 18-year olds on farms in a bid to keep them at school for longer.

Similarly, the Limpopo provincial government has been discouraging the practice of marrying off younger girls because this forces them to drop out of school once they fall pregnant.

The provincial authorities have instead been advocating marriage after the age of 20, Motshekga said.

Research published by Wits education policy professor Brahm Fleisch and his colleagues in 2010 showed that many of the children who did not attend school had a disability, had no parents at home, or came from child-headed households.

Motshekga confirmed her department had also identified dysfunctional families and disability as two of the biggest contributors to children dropping out of school in lower grades.

She said the government had not been giving enough attention to children with learning barriers, especially those with disabilities such as deafness and blindness, saying such children were not getting enough parental support.

She said even though government could use the law to arrest parents who were failing to send their children to school, she preferred to rope in social welfare officials to help in such cases as the children needed support from their families.

“In some instances it is government regulations which say if you’ve been away from school for three weeks you are expelled. Those are the things we are trying to correct,” said Motshekga.

“If a child is away from school for three weeks, it could be truancy. But if the child wants to come back to school, they should be assisted. It’s a policy we are looking at.”

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