Rebecca Zulu with her grandson, Nkamogelang Baloyi, supervising him while he is doing his homework. She has difficulties helping him as she doesnt understand some of his subjects. Photo: Thobile Mathonsi
Rebecca Zulu with her grandson, Nkamogelang Baloyi, supervising him while he is doing his homework. She has difficulties helping him as she doesnt understand some of his subjects. Photo: Thobile Mathonsi

Key role of elderly in education

By NTANDO MAKHUBU Time of article published Feb 20, 2015

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Pretoria - More than 95 percent of the country’s elderly live with their grandchildren in households where the parents are absent, and while they provide the necessary support and prioritise the attainment of education, they fall short in assisting with school work.

Statistics SA on Thursday said only one in five of people aged between 60 and 70 years and older, have completed secondary education or have higher levels of education.

“Their failure to assist in assignments and homework creates a gap in the country’s education system, and this is a problem that requires policy intervention,” Statistician-General Pali Lehohla said on Thursday.

He presented statistics on the 2013 patterns of morbidity and mortality among the elderly, a population which accounted for 8 percent of the 53 million South Africans.

He said 39 percent of total deaths last year were of this generation of older people. “A total of 180 289 deaths occurred among older persons in 2013, the majority of deaths being due to non-communicable diseases,” he said.

The leading cause of death was cerebrovascular diseases, followed by diabetes mellitus and other forms of heart disease and hypertensive diseases, he said.

Lehohla said more than 70 percent of older people were heads of households; 50 percent were married; 38 percent widowed; 9 percent never married; and, 4.7 percent were either divorced or separated.

“Just over 60 percent of older people are female, 38 percent men and the gap in proportion between males and females increases with age,” he said.

Lehohla spoke about the skipped generation - living arrangements where the biological parents were not present within the household.

“Living with grandparents is good, because they care for you and even spoil you. They make sure grandchildren go to school and provide a lot of support and social leadership, but they lack the content to help with school work,” he said.

Of the skipped generational children aged 5 to 13, 97 percent attended an educational facility and 91 percent of those aged 14 and 18 were in one.

According to the statistics, 22.5 percent of people aged 60 years and older had no schooling, the proportion increasing with age.

Eighty-four percent were not found to be economically inactive.

And, a total of 70 percent received a social assistance grant.

Lehohla explained that the information gathered was key to the formation of policies to cater for the needs of older people. “The findings will be used to improve geriatric services and programmes for the elderly in South Africa,” he said.

A typical situation shows the difficulties explained by Lehohla.

Rebecca Zulu’s grandson, Nkamogelang Baloyi, has done well in school, passing without any hitches through primary school to get to Grade 8 this year.

The 71-year-old granny from Atteridgeville on Thursday said her grandson’s educational future was in the hands of his educators. “I sit him down every evening and supervise him when he does his homework, and while I can check to make sure everything I can identify is done, I cannot not guarantee the accuracy of the content.”

She admitted to relying heavily on the teachers, and said: “I spoke to each of his teachers and gave them permission to go hard when it came to getting him to do his work.”

Zulu is just one of the many older people living with their grandchildren in the absence of their parents, in a phenomenon Lehohla called the “skipped generation”.

Lehohla’s office identified a gap in the education system caused by the lack of current educational information by the older generation, and said while they loved and nurtured their grandchildren in the best possible way, they failed in school work.

Lehohla said teachers of the skipped generation children had to work extra hard to keep all their pupils at the same level, something Zulu agreed with, and said: “They are the keepers of our children’s future and they know it.”

Causes of death

Older persons: causes of death

* Non-natural causes of death uncommon among older people

* 96.8% dying from natural causes

* 4.7% of unnatural deaths were among coloured people

* 2.8% among white

Disease profile

Non-communicable diseases accounted for 78.3% of deaths:

* Leading causes were diabetes, cerebrovascular diseases, hypertension

Communicable diseases accounted for 18.4% of deaths among older people:

* These included tuberculosis, intestinal infectious diseases, HIV

* These killed more men than women, at 20% and 17%, respectively

* 22.8% were black, 10.2% white; 9.2% coloured 7.8% Indian/Asian

Leading causes of death:

Cerebrovascular diseases - 9%

Diabetes mellitus - 8.6%

Other forms of heart disease - 7.5%

Hypertensive diseases - 7%

Influenza and pneumonia - 4.5%

Chronic lower respiratory disease - 4.4%

Intestinal infectious diseases - 2.3%

Other natural causes - 42%

Non natural causes - 3.2%

Older persons population by race

Coloured 7.7%

Indian/Asian 11%

Black 64%

White 20.5%

Population by province

WC 8.6%

EC 8.8%

NC 9.1%

FS 8.4%

KZN 7.5%

NW 7.5%

GP 7.5%

MP 6.7%

L 7.7%

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The Mercury

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