THE BLOG
27/03/2018 05:11 SAST | Updated 27/03/2018 05:11 SAST

We Need To Ensure That Education Is Entrenched As A Human Right

While reading should be taught and reinforced at school, it a skill that should be inculcated at home.

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How South Africa's dropout rates are diminishing education as a human right

Almost 24 years after the dawn of democracy in South Africa, several headwinds still face the country in terms of ensuring that education is enshrined as a fundamental human right. Both the South African Constitution and the United Nations (U.N.) Universal Declaration of Human Rights make special mentions of education.

Section 29 of South Africa's Constitution says every citizen has the right to a basic education and that the state – through reasonable measures – must make it available and accessible. Crucially, this means the state has a duty to respect an individual's right to education. The U.N. drew up the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, which said all the world's citizens have a right to education.

Education forms the basis of development in any country and in South Africa, our government allocates the lion's share of its national budget each year to this very cause. A big highlight every year in early January is the announcement of the matric pass rate. But despite South Africa's 2017 matric pass rate being 75.1 percent, reality paints a different picture.

Of the 1,155,629 pupils who started Grade 1 in 2006, only 34.7 percent obtained a matric pass in 2017, according to data from Africa Check. In addition, just 40 percent of 20-year-old respondents in 2014, 2015 and 2016 general household surveys said they had a matric certificate.

When considering that a matric pass is a basic requirement for anybody seeking a job in South Africa, these statistics paint a very worrying picture. To start thinking about solving this problem and strengthening the right to education, we need to identify what the key factors are behind this problem.

One of the key reasons behind dropouts is that many children struggle to see the value of education.

Key reasons for dropouts

The first key reason behind this high dropout rate includes socioeconomic factors that force children to leave school.

This includes children having to leave school in search of work, simply because their families cannot survive otherwise. In South Africa, child-headed households are still prevalent, where parents have died or left, and children, again, have to leave school to work and fend for their siblings. Added to this are other social ills such as drugs or alcohol addiction and teen pregnancies, which exacerbate the country's pass-rate woes.

Another key reason behind dropouts is that many children struggle to see the value of education. This is especially true of children who don't meet the requirements of their grades and are progressed or pushed through the educational system by their schools. In turn, educators often prompt progressed children to leave the system completely – especially at Grade 10 and 11 level – so as not to drag down a school's matric pass rate.

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Many of these children are then persuaded to attend local community centres, but there's no guarantee that their education needs are then met, and they are at high risk of falling out of the system entirely. Other factors that have a direct impact on our children's ability to learn and progress through the system include reading comprehension.

Nearly eight out of 10 South African children at Grade 4 level cannot read with meaning, compared with four in 100 internationally, according to a PIRLS study conducted last year. More than half of South African schools assessed in the PIRLS study don't have libraries, while more than half of the children assessed further said that they don't have books at home.

While reading should be taught and reinforced at school, it a skill that should be inculcated at homes across the country. As a society, we need to promote a culture of reading. But this is challenging, especially in a country where many parents, because of apartheid, tragically cannot read themselves.

Dealing with the factors that cause high dropout rates and the social ills around them should be a key focus area for South Africa.

There is hope

There is hope, then, for our children who do drop out of the system. But that hope needs to be tempered with the realism that obtaining a matric certificate after school-leaving age becomes more challenging the longer one waits.

It's much more difficult to go back and study 10 or 20 years later, but it certainly is possible.

Ensuring education is entrenched as a human right

To the governing ANC's credit, the political party has managed to ensure that more people are included in the net of basic education than ever before. South Africa needs to move forward in ensuring this net grows but that, critically, our children receive the highest possible quality education.

The recent move by President Cyril Ramaphosa to call on Minister of Basic Education Angie Matsheke to phase out pit latrines after the death of a child in Eastern Cape is encouraging, but much more needs to be done to ensure a dignified environment.

Added to this, dealing with the factors that cause high dropout rates and the social ills around them should be a key focus area for South Africa, when it comes to ensuring that more of our children benefit from the right to education. As our great former president Nelson Mandela once said: "From the poorest of countries to the richest of nations, education is the key to moving forward in any society."