According to reports, about 50% of children who start Grade 1 don’t end up finishing matric. With the lockdown effects, these statistics may be even worse this year.

It was falling pregnant that led Rifqah Jacobs (17) from Heideveld in Cape Town to drop out of school when she was in Grade 10. ‘I just stayed out of school. It was in 2019. Then I had my baby in December,’ says Rifqah. Almost a year later, Rifqah still dreams of finishing high school. She says her mother is helping her find a night school as she has to take care of her son during the day.

‘Now that I have a baby, education is important to me. School used to be a joke but now I have a responsibility. I want to go to school, for my future and my child’s future,’ she adds. She is among thousands of South African children who start school in Grade 1 but do not make it through to matric. And the rising statistics are worrying.

According to the recently published South African government’s draft National Youth Policy 2020-2030, the number of children who left school before matriculating is at least 50%. This is backed by Statistics South Africa, which indicated that about 50% of children complete Grade 12. A local non-profit Zero Dropout Campaign puts the dropout number at up to 60% though. 

According to basic education minister Angie Motshekga, over 300 000 pupils around the country might have dropped out of school over a six-month period during lockdown. The Western Cape Education Department, through its #CommitToFinish social media campaign, wants to see more children matriculate. The department’s spokesperson, Bronagh Hammond, says the campaign was launched in October.

At the time, the education system was still recovering from the impacts of Covid-19. ‘We do not want to see learners dropping out or self-doubt creeping in. We want to support them in finishing their matric year. This choice will change their life and the life of those around them,’ says Bronagh. She states that the campaign was especially important for Grade 12 learners.

“We do not want to see learners dropping out or self-doubt creeping in. We want to support them in finishing their matric year. This choice will change their life.”

‘Past experience shows that some learners become despondent at the end of the year, especially following their trial exams, and may make the decision to drop out,’ she says.

According to Bronagh, other reasons that learners drop out include ‘cases of death, transfer to another school in another province or transfer to a college.’ This is confirmed by non-profit groups and the national Education Department, who state that dropouts are predominately due to poverty, family responsibilities where some children take care of their siblings, failing exams, violence at school, illness and falling pregnant. With all these challenging factors, it is vital that parents support their children throughout their schooling. Educational psychologist, Habib Kagee, says parents need to remind their children that self-discipline and commitment are important for finishing school.

‘Parents, guardians and caregivers need to make sure that they play an extremely supportive role,’ says Habib. He states that understanding the child’s ability and the challenges children face is important. ‘Sometimes bullying happens at schools and there’s no emotional support for the child. And then they drop out. Other areas have gangsterism and children join gangs. It is important that parents are aware of these challenges.’

Part of schooling is also career guidance, and parents play a role in this too, says Habib. ‘When we offer career guidance, we speak to learners about their potential versus their interest. If you have an interest in becoming a doctor and you aren’t doing physics and mathematics, it won’t be possible to study medicine. But if your parents come from the medical field and they want you to follow in their footsteps, they would steer you in the right direction,’ he says.

‘Parents also need to encourage their children to follow their own dreams, not theirs.’ This indicates a lack of proper guidance, which could lead to demotivation at school and even dropout. ‘Parents need to think about their role when it comes to their children’s education. They need to make sure their child knows they are there to support them and get them through,’ concludes Habib.


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SOUTH AFRICA’S SCHOOL DROP-OUT CRISIS SOUTH AFRICA’S SCHOOL DROP-OUT CRISIS Reviewed by Michelle Pienaar on December 23, 2020 Rating: 5
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