Where have the students gone? at’s the question education officials and teachers in South Africa are asking themselves. Less than 50 per cent of students who enrol in school sit their final exams, and the rate children are dropping out of school is a great concern.
Tere are many reasons children drop out, attend school infrequently or don’t enter the system at all, ranging from poverty, family commitments and illness to a struggle to keep up academically, or child pregnancy. In the Ratlou municipality, 3,000 girls have dropped out of school due to pregnancy.
Educate A Child, a programme of the Education Above All foundation, and MIET Africa have partnered on the “Education: My Right! My Future!” project, which aims to improve access, attendance and completion of primary schooling for 30,000 children. Boitumelo Mokgosi is a training coordinator for the project and helps train officials, teachers and parent volunteers to identify and support children who are frequently absent or who have dropped out, and bring them back to school.
One such student was 12-year-old Kagiso, who had been absent frequently because she was visiting her boyfriend, a man in his fifties. Kagiso’s father is a teacher and her mother an administrator. “Kagiso’s parents had no idea that she was not attending school until the teacher and our parent volunteers intervened,” says Boitumelo. Her parents laid a charge of statutory rape against the man and Kagiso’s father wanted to severely punish her.
The counsellor persuaded Kagiso’s parents that there were better ways of addressing the issue and that a beating was not the solution. Kagiso was introduced to a child of her own age who had become pregnant and was now struggling to look after her baby. She was taken to a hospice, where she met people dying of AIDS- related illnesses. Today Kagiso’s school attendance and attitude have improved. “Her uncle monitors her cell phone, and she does community work every weekend. Her parents are grateful that we intervened and showed them what their beloved daughter is capable of.” As a result of Kagiso’s story, Boitumelo and her volunteers have started mother and daughter groups. “We have a long way to go but we have made a good start and are seeing real progress,” says Boitumelo.
Kagiso’s name has been changed for this article