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Pandemic pushing pupils to drop out of school

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The Basic Education Department’s head of department Mathanzima Mweli said that although it is fairly early days after re-opening of all schools, the drop out projections by province for this academic year was a worrying factor.

Picture: African News Agency (ANA)

THE BASIC Education Department is projecting a drop out total of 75,452 pupils from Grades 7 and 12 due to the Covid-19 pandemic this academic year.

The department revealed this when it briefed the basic education portfolio committee on matters relating to the virus on Tuesday.

Head of department Mathanzima Mweli told the MPs that although it is fairly early days after re-opening of all schools, the drop out projections by province for this academic year was a worrying factor.

Basic Education’s Mathanzima Mweli. Picture: African News Agency (ANA)

“The cost of dropout to many nations is too ghastly,” Mweli said, adding that it posed a burden to social security and crime.

“We have to do something about it,” he said.

According to the figures, there were an estimated 52,090 pupils likely to drop out in Grade 7 this academic year in almost all the provinces.

The figure might be more as the Northern Cape did not report on its estimate while Western Cape only provided a percentage estimated at between 5% and 15%.

KwaZulu-Natal led the pack with 38,541 Grade 7 pupils, followed by Mpumalanga with 5,699, Eastern Cape 3,350, Free State 3,030, Gauteng 1,066 and Limpopo 87.

In terms of Grade 12, the department’s figures showed that there was a projected 23,362 dropout for this academic year.

KwaZulu-Natal was again leading all other provinces with 18,708 matriculants. It is followed by the Eastern Cape, with 1,195, Free State 1,092, Gauteng 1,087, North West 640, Northern Cape 580 and Limpopo 60.

Both Mpumalanga and Western Cape did not expect dropouts in this category.

The projections take place against the backdrop of 49,578 pupils who are exempted from school attendance due to comorbidities, ill-health other than comorbidities and fears over Covid-19.

This happened when 2,871 pupils are learning online through the school and 1,306 others learning online through service providers.

The report showed there were 10,903 pupils with comorbidities with Western Cape recording 3,581, Free State 748, Gauteng 539, KwaZulu-Natal 1,431, Limpopo 299, Mpumalanga 604, North West 1,169, Western Cape 2,532 and Northern Cape zero.

Those with ill-health other than comorbidities were 4,290 and those with anxiety or fear of the virus stood at 34,565.

Western Cape is leading the pack among the provinces with students with Covid-19 fears.

It is followed by Gauteng with 1,468, Mpumalanga 1,448, North West 1,291, KwaZulu-Natal 640, Limpopo 796, Free State 61 and Eastern Cape and Northern Cape recording zero.

ACDP MP Marie Sukers said they have received complaints that parents were pressured and threatened to get their children to get back to school despite there being an option not to do so.

“Parents are extremely anxious to get the children to school … There needs to be communication made to provinces that parents cannot be forced. it is an issue to be attended to,” Sukers said.

DA MP Nomsa Marchesi asked what the department was doing to ensure those pupils who were not getting any kind of education while sitting at home were encouraged to get back and complete matric.

EFF MP Reneiloe Mashabela blamed non-attendance at schools on poverty and hunger, among other things.

“We propose to the department to target poor learners. It must give them food parcels,” Mashaba said.

Committee chairperson Bongiwe Mbinqo-Gigaba insisted efforts should be made to get the pupils, projected to drop out, back in class.

“I do not have an idea of how but there must be a concerted effort to get those children in class. It is really worrying,” Mbinqo-Gigaba said.

Deputy Minister Reginah Mhaule said the reasons varied for the drop out by the pupils with some living with underlying conditions and also parents being afraid their children would contract the virus.

Mhaule said they were tracing pupils and communicating with parents urging them to encourage the return of the pupils.

“If they are a schoolgoing age, they will be readmitted next year but they will have to reapply,” she said.