FIFTY-five pupils, from Grade R to Grade 12, were found bunking in Athlone yesterday. Yet this is only a fraction of the thousands of children across the province who play truant.
In yesterday’s joint operation by police, the Department of Social Development, Traffic Services and the Department of Education, errant children were rounded up and brought to the Bridgetown Community Centre.
They were assessed by social workers and referred for further intervention, which will start with home visits and counselling. In extreme cases, children found to be neglected could be removed from their parents and put in a place of safety.
Truancy is a big problem in Athlone, with many children refusing to attend school, or running away during school hours.
Across the province there were only 49 truancy officers, who could not cover all the schools, Western Cape Education MEC Donald Grant said yesterday.
Truancy is also a problem in Blikkiesdorp and Delft, and depending on the success of yesterday’s operation, similar programmes will take place across the province.
There are one million children at school in the Western Cape. Of that number, 10 000 stay absent – some for legitimate reasons, others because they are playing truant.
There are no real figures for how many children refuse to go to school.
Grant said pupils needed to take responsibility for their actions, even though he understood for some of them personal circumstances made it difficult to attend school.
He said parents in Blikkiesdorp often kept their children at home because it suited them.
Grant battled to track down a boy whose school attendance record was poor. Neither his mother nor his grandmother knew where he was. After talking to the mother at her house, Grant discovered that the boy found school work overwhelming.
Brenda Robertson, from the Department of Education, said the boy, 14, was a candidate for a school of skills and that they would assist him to get into one.
For others it wasn’t as cut and dried. Driving down Loerie Road, Grant stopped his car and confronted three girls, who claimed they had permission to go home, even though they did not have permission slips.
The authorities’ next step was to have a similar operation in Manenberg, Gugulethu, Lansdowne, Nyanga and Philippi East.