THE alarm has been raised about high levels of truancy in Pietermaritzburg.
A Msunduzi Municipal councillor and member of the ANC Youth League national executive committee (NEC), Rachel Soobiah, came across the problem quite by chance. She found that blaming public transport had become a convenient excuse for pupils being late and that large numbers of children were frequenting parks and walking around the streets during school hours.
Soobiah is to meet the chairpersons of school governing bodies and principals on Tuesday, September 25, to find solutions to the problem.
She said she stumbled upon the problem when she passed by Esther Payne Secondary School (EPS) in Northdale and found more than 70 pupils sitting outside the locked school gates. On inquiring, she was told that the school, like all others, was following a directive from the KZN Education Department that the gates had to be locked to discourage latecoming. Believing that pupils were late because of their reliance on public transport, Soobiah decided to investigate.
The Witness accompanied her to the taxi rank at Freedom Square early on a Monday morning.
Soobiah pointed out that children arrived at the rank as early as 6.30 am, but most of them did not get into the rows of waiting taxis.
Instead, they loitered around and got into the taxis only much later. Many only began to queue by 7.30 am to 8 am, after school had started, and by then they had to wait for returning taxis that had dropped off their first load.
“If the children got on to the taxis earlier, then the taxis would return sooner to take them to school,” Soobiah said.
When teachers from EPS and Kharina were at the rank to ensure that the children did not hang around, Soobiah noted that the pupils from those two schools were in the taxis by 8.15 am.
However, as one of the teachers pointed out, it was not always possible to be at the rank because they needed to get on with classes.
Soobiah has also found pupils hanging around the parks in Northdale or walking about in the area and in the city centre.
“I realised this is not just a problem of pupils being late for school. Many of them were playing truant. It was not just high school pupils, but primary school children as well,” she said.
As a member of the ANCYL portfolio committee on education and health, Soobiah said she was deeply concerned about the problem.
“Parents send their children to school, and when they are late they blame the taxis. But transport is not the problem; rather it is a lack of discipline.
“We can’t always blame the schools and the teachers. Parents have to take responsibility to ensure that their children are at school. We have to find ways to cut down on truancy.”
Soobiah hopes next Tuesday’s meeting will come up with solutions. The meeting will take place at 6 pm at Newholmes Primary School.