326 000 pupils believed to have dropped out between April and October
Johannesburg - A shocking 326 000 learners are believed to have dropped out of the country’s public schools since the year started.
The figures have been revealed by Basic Education Minister, Angie Motshekga. She was responding to written questions in the National Assembly.
Nomsa Tarabella-Marchesi, the DA’s member of the basic education committee, asked Motshekga about the total number of learners who have dropped out of primary school between April and October 2020.
Motshekga supplied what seemed like data accounting for the entire public system, not just primary school.
Her document could also not say outright that the learners have dropped out, but indicated that it was detailing the “number of learners who cannot be accounted for and might have dropped out”.
The problem was far worse in KwaZulu-Natal and the Western Cape. Of the 326 000 learners no longer going to school, these two coastal provinces accounted for 241 141.
KwaZulu-Natal could not account for 126 553 pupils who were in school in January, and the figure was 114 588 in the Western Cape.
Gauteng had the third-worst figures, with over 55 000 learners no longer going to school.
There were 10 290 dropout learners in the Northern Cape, 8 153 in the Eastern Cape, 5 482 in Free State and 4 390 in Mpumalanga.
Limpopo and North West recorded fairly numbers, with 800 and 370 respectively.
Critics of the department have repeatedly said that South Africa faced a school dropout crisis.
They held the view that the problem cuts so deep that those who write matric were just a proportion of the children who start school.
Covid-19, which forced extended school closures, was expected to worsen the dropout rate, said Roné McFarlane, co-head of research at Equal Education.
“It is devastating to anticipate even greater dropout rates than South Africa was seeing before the pandemic.
“Before Covid-19, we were already faced with a situation where over the years 2014 to 2018, around 50% of all 22 to 25-year-olds didn’t have a matric qualification,” McFarlane said.
But Motshekga’s figures did not inspire confidence, she said.
“The figures in the Parliamentary reply seem to be very vague estimates, rather than concrete projections. There are huge variations in the numbers projected for different provinces, which don’t seem to reflect a logical pattern,” McFarlane said.
The Zero Dropout Campaign, another organisation, expressed similar doubt about the accuracy of Motshekga’s data.
“While we note the figures presented by the minister and her team, we want to know what datasets were relied on to produce these figures,” said Merle Mansfield, the campaign’s programme director.