- The Gauteng education department says almost 3 000 pupils did not return to school last year during the lockdown.
- It said it would now be sending teams out to locate the pupils.
- MEC Panyaza Lesufi says schools are safe and children should not be kept away from school because of Covid-19.
As thousands of pupils returned to school to start the 2020 academic year on Monday, the Gauteng Department of Education says it is concerned about the almost 3 000 who have not returned to their schools last year since the shutdown in March due to Covid-19.
Education MEC Panyaza said the pupils did not write their exams because they were not in school. He said others had not returned because their parents had decided to keep them at home, fearing the spread of the virus.
Lesufi said the department would, from Monday, embark on a search for the pupils and ensure they returned to school.
"Today, we want to release all our teams to go and look for these children because we can't allow a child to dropout because of Covid-19. We can't allow a child to dropout because their parents are scared that by going to school, they will get Covid-19.
"Because if any child drops out of education, there are two options; it's prison and social grants. So those children that didn't come back last year, those children that parents felt they must not come back, we are urging them on this day, to leave those children to come back and learn. Our environment is safe," Lesufi said.
On Sunday, the national department said the dropout rate was a concern in the sector and that back to school campaigns were under way.
The department said that provinces such as Gauteng and Limpopo had indicated that pupils who had not returned to school during the lockdown should apply for readmission in the same grades.
It added that no pupil would be discriminated against if they had dropped out.
Lesufi unveiled the R77-million state-of-the-art Abram Hlophe Primary School in Katlehong, Ekurhuleni, on Monday. The handing over ceremony was attended by Premier David Makhura, Ekurhuleni Mayor Mzwandile Masina and Infrastructure Development MEC Tasneem Motara.
The school has been refurbished and fitted with two laboratories, an administration block, a hall withan equipped kitchen, as well as sports fields.
Excited pupils, had trickled in as early as 07:00 with their masks on.
Lesufi said almost 120 000 Grade 1 pupils were expected to start school. He added that the province was also expecting to release the results of almost 104 000 matrics.
"You can see that we are closing the gap of dropouts, if we welcome 120 000 and we are releasing 104 000," the MEC said.
He added that the province was proud of the 104 000 "brave" matrics of 2020 who wrote their exams under difficult conditions.
Lesufi said he was confident that the majority of the class of 2020 had passed.
He said, as part of youth development and investing in the future, the provincial government would be issuing the top three performing pupils from each township school with four-year bursaries at institutions of their choice.
Premier David Makhura said it was important for municipalities to make an effort with youth development and the education of youngsters so they didn't become a lost generation.
He said there was nothing more disappointing than the province opening schools, for a better education of children, that had been vandalised and had equipment gets stolen.