Big boost to help keep pupils in school

16 November 2021 - 18:05
By Prega Govender
Of the 120,000 schoolgirls who fall pregnant annually, only a third returned to school after giving birth.
Image: Esa Alexander Of the 120,000 schoolgirls who fall pregnant annually, only a third returned to school after giving birth.

In a bid to prevent pregnant pupils from becoming dropouts, the department of basic education has deployed 3,000 young people known as learner support agents to schools.

Acting director-general Granville Whittle confirmed they had signed an agreement with the US government for an additional 250 young people to be hired as learner support agents.

He was responding to questions from MPs on Tuesday during a briefing in the National Council of Provinces on school dropouts.

Whittle conceded that of the 120,000 schoolgirls who fall pregnant annually, only a third returned to school after giving birth.

Figures for national deliveries in facilities by the health department revealed that 132,612 girls aged 15 to 19 fell pregnant in 2020 and a further 35,209 between January and March this year.

One of the duties of learner support agents was to support young girls who fall pregnant while they are at home, he said.

This includes taking schoolwork to their homes if they missed school or are sick and also helping them to access social welfare services such as child support grants when the babies are born.

The duties of the learner support agents also involve providing emotional support for vulnerable pupils and assisting those from child and granny-headed households with homework.

“We are working with civil society to develop a national toolkit we want to make available to schools to specifically address children at risk of dropout,” he said.

According to statistics provided by Northern Cape education MEC Zolile Monakali, 9,445 of the 268,364 pupils in grades 8 to 12 dropped out this year.

A further 3,793 of the 174,242 pupils in grades 1 to 7 dropped out.

He said pupils who did not attend school for the entire quarter of the year or were not registered for home-schooling or being taught remotely were deemed to have dropped out.

Monakali blamed the dropout problem on teen pregnancy, substance abuse, anxieties about the Covid-19 pandemic, academic pressure faced by pupils and poverty levels.

The deputy minister of basic education, Reginah Mhaule, said the basic education laws amendment bill was proposing tougher penalties for parents who fail to send their children, who were in the compulsory schooling age, to school.

It is compulsory for pupils aged seven to 15 to attend school.

She said teachers must report pupils who are not coming to school to principals.

“The school has a contract with the parent so the school governing body has the right to hold the parent of a pupil, who is no longer coming to school, liable.”

She said the long-term priority was to deal with the fundamental cause of dropout “which is weak learning foundations”.

“Now that schools are open again, we will work without ceasing to protect teaching time and keep schools open for as long as possible.

“The low risk posed to children by Covid-19 and the successful teacher vaccination campaign makes regular school attendance viable.”

MP Andrew Arnolds, said research showed one of the best ways to prevent dropout was through effective monitoring systems “that will be able to track pupil progress and alert officials when pupils are at risk of dropping out”.

“Why are we not getting it right to have an effective monitoring system to prevent school dropouts?”