NCOP Delegates Discuss School Drop (+250k Learners Drop Out in 2020)

Staff Writer

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The phenomenon of school drop-outs should be investigated to ensure that all stakeholders comply with the provisions of the Basic Education Act. So said the Chairperson of the National Council of Provinces, Mr Amos Masondo, when he opened a ministerial briefing in the NCOP earlier last week.

“This Act compels the parents to ensure that their kids attend schools. And those parents who fail to do so would be found guilty of an offence and can be fined or be imprisoned to a sentence not exceeding six months,” he said.

NCOP Delegates Discuss School Drop (+250k Learners Drop Out in 2020)

He called for active participation from the Department of Basic Education and other stakeholders in the sector to account for each learner’s education, bearing in mind child-headed households and poverty, among other factors: “We have resolved to debate this matter to ensure that we do all that we can to eradicate it. And we are hopeful that the inputs that will come from our deliberations will come up with sustainable solutions to this societal challenge.”

The Deputy Minister of Basic Education, Dr Regina Mhaule, conceded that basic education is critical for children’s growth and their economic activity in the future. According to her, girl children are more likely to finish their schooling, despite the rising number of children pregnancies and early forced marriages.

But of all pupils enrolled in the system over time, only 50% of them complete schooling. Furthermore, currently there is no data tracking the annual drop-out rate; they rely mostly on the data that tracks age group dropouts over a long period. She reiterated that “household poverty, migration and health-related challenges are the major contributors to school drop-outs.” In her view, “it’s these series of circumstances as well as socio-emotional risks factors that are connected together and that contribute to this challenge than an isolated event.”

Apart from that, she reckoned, “the weak culture of teaching at school is another major contributing factor in this regard.” She went on: “Studies have shown that good early learning and teaching outcomes predetermine pupils’ capability to pass matric,” and the opposite has a direct correlation with school drop-outs.

She further conceded that Covid-19 lockdowns have contributed immensely to this phenomenon. “The rotational system meant that pupils had only 50% contact with teachers. This has contributed to well over 250 000 incidents of school drop-outs in this period, which has had a negative impact on the 2020/21 academic year.”

She hopes that the forthcoming Bill meant to address school drop-outs, which will hold the teacher, principal, parents and governing body accountable in different measures, will assist to combat this challenge.

During the question session, NCOP delegates to the NCOP asked questions about the department’s approach to this challenge. Ms Sonja Boshoff wanted to know about the interventions the department is implementing to monitor these factors before they come to fruition. The Acting Deputy Director of the Basic Education Department, Dr Granville Whittle, replied that one of the contribution factors is the real learning foundation in the system. To resolve that he said they are implementing the South African Development Community teaching and learning material support programme at schools.

NCOP delegate Mr Mlindi Nhanha pointed out that currently too heavy a burden is placed on teachers in this regard, and realistically, they “cannot be expected to be social workers and psychologists. What is the department doing to mitigate this, to ensure that teachers are left to teach and monitor pupils’ progress?” Dr Whittle responded: “We are currently working with a cluster of departments to address this matter. In this regard, the Department of Social Development has provided schools with social workers to address this challenge.” In addition, “we have provided schools with well over 3 000 learners’ agents to support vulnerable learners at various schools to meet the needs of pupils who lag behind in their studies as a means to arrest any possibility of drop-outs as a result of that.”

Alluding to the impact of Covid-19 on school drop-outs, another NCOP delegate Mr Mbulelo Bara stated that during this period there has been a marked increase in pupils not returning to school in the Free State and the Eastern Cape. He wanted to know what the department is doing to address this. The deputy minister replied that the rotational system has had a negative impact on schooling. “We are planning on a recovery plan to ensure that pupils who are supposed to be at school are indeed at school.” She pointed out that the forthcoming amendment Bill on compulsory schooling for pupils from grade 1 to 9 will go a long way in addressing such challenges. And will hold parents more accountable than has been the case before.

Speaking on existing inequality in our education system, NCOP delegate Mr Andrew Arnolds pointed out that pupils from poor household had 50% teacher contact during Covid, while those who are well off used technology to have uninterrupted teacher contact. He wanted to know why the department is not addressing this systematic inequality that affect the education of the poor. Dr Mahaule responded that the department is trying to harness technology to ensure that there are no learners that are left behind due to Covid-19.

Reference: NCOP (Abel Mputing).