200 000 learners dropped out of school in just 6 months, says deputy minister
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CAPE TOWN - In just six months about 200 000 learners dropped out of school due to teenage pregnancy, substance abuse, Covid-19 anxiety and weak foundations, among other reasons.
This emerged when Basic Education Deputy Minister Reginah Mhaule briefed the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) on the school drop-out management and prevention plans on Tuesday.
She also told MPs that every year about 120 000 pupils fall pregnant, but only a third return to school.
Mhaule said that between November last year and April 2021 there was a decline in school attendance of about 200 000.
“The number is 200 000 who did not return to school, not 500 000. I had to check my records here. Despite risk factors like teenage pregnancy, females are less likely to drop out of school than males.
She said it was concerning that in the age group 7 to 15 years “the reason for dropping out was disability” and that some learners of 16 to 17 years of age were “satisfied with the level of education they have”.
Teacher unions have described the statistics as alarming but believable.
School drop-out was mostly recorded from Grade 9 onwards, the department said.
In July the National Income Dynamics Study - Coronavirus Rapid Mobile Survey (Nids-Cram) study indicated that an additional 500 000 pupils, aged 7 to 17, dropped out of school during the pandemic, increasing from 230 000 pre-pandemic.
Researchers looked into the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and the lockdown on South African households.
Mhaule said they were preparing for the amendments of the basic education laws to look at the problem of school drop-out and were working with their sister departments, Higher Education and Social Development, to deal with the issue.
Basic Education acting director-general Granville Whittle said the Cabinet had recently approved a policy on teenage pregnancy.
“We are currently working with a range of departments to develop an implementation plan and we will start implementing that policy from January 2022.
“One of the key tenets of that policy is that learners who do fall pregnant must be allowed to return to school as soon as possible and in the period where they are off because of the pregnancy, that they be allowed to return, but also that schools provide ongoing educational support to them during that time,” said Whittle.
Professor Ann Skelton, UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) chair holder at the University of Pretoria, said she appreciated the fact that the department was focusing on the issue.
“Indeed, the Convention on the Rights of the Child expressly requires states to deal actively with drop-outs. As a way forward, steps need to be taken to encourage community involvement in getting learners back to class. Attendance monitoring systems (until Grade 12) need to be developed and actively used.
“There needs to be a comprehensive ‘back to school’ plan that includes assistance with re-enrolment and catch-up plans to cover curriculum gaps.
“There is a need for psychosocial support for these returning learners and to prevent future drop-out,” said Skelton.
Commissioner for Children in the Western Cape, Christina Nomdo, said there were many challenges that hindered basic education for children and the Children’s Institute Covid advocacy briefs have confirmed that children have been directly affected by the pandemic in negative ways.
“Our historical challenges of child hunger and child protection have worsened according to front-line service providers. Schooling provides so many protective factors in the lives of children to build their resilience to adversity.”
Nomdo said good quality education could reduce the risk of children being vulnerable to negative influences around them.
“We need to get them back to school. Quality education, equity and safe schools are imperative for optimising the value of schooling. Children must be supported with their barriers to learning whether that be hunger, drug addiction, early pregnancy or learning disability. That is the responsibility of parents and government as the duty bearers who must deliver on realising child rights,” she said.
National Professional Teachers’ Organisation of SA executive director Basil Manuel said the statistics were alarming but looked believable.
“However, we will only be able to know that the numbers are correct when the pupils return to school on a full-time basis. The causes of this crisis are significant and concerning. Pregnancy and drugs are challenges that we normally hear about. When we hear reasons including that it’s because of Covid-19 as parents lost their jobs and there was no money for transport, that is tragic.
“We cannot afford to have more children to be in the group of neither educated or trained,” said Manuel.