The Department of Basic Education is developing new legislation to address the high number of dropouts at South Africa’s schools.
South Africa’s Basic Education Act currently compels parents to ensure that their kids attend schools. 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.
However, Basic Education deputy minister Reginah Mhaule said a new bill would introduce additional measures to hold principals, parents and governing bodies accountable for non-attendance. The bill, which will specifically focus on compulsory schooling between Grades 1 – 9, is also expected to hold parents more accountable than under current laws.
A 2017 version of the Basic Education Laws Amendment Bill proposed increasing the penalty provision from six months to as much as six years where the parent of a learner, or any other person, prevents a learner who is subject to compulsory school attendance from attending school.
The bill also proposes to make it an offence for any person to willfully interrupt or disrupt any school activity or to wilfully hinder or obstruct any school in the performance of the school’s activities.
Data provided by the department shows that of all pupils enrolled in the school system over time, only 50% of them complete schooling. Currently, there is no data tracking the annual dropout rate, with the department relying primarily on the data that tracks age group dropouts over a long period of time.
Mhaule said that household poverty, migration and health-related challenges are the major contributors to school dropouts. She added that several socio-economic risks also contribute to the number of dropouts, which means that it cannot be dealt with as an isolated event.
“The weak culture of teaching at school is another major contributing factor in this regard,” she said. “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 dropouts.”
Speaking directly on the impact of the Covid-19 lockdown, Mhaule said that the pandemic has led to a direct and notable increase in dropouts.
“The rotational system meant that pupils had only 50% contact with teachers. This has contributed to well over 250,000 incidents of school dropouts in this period, which has had a negative impact on the 2020/21 academic year,” she said.