WHAT OUR KIDS DO
A new survey reveals how labour activities take precedence over schooling
Statistician-General Pali Lehohla proposes that policymakers consider supporting teachers who care for children in rural areas. After this week’s release of the Survey of Activities of Young People, Lehohla told City Press that schooling for many rural children was disrupted because they were left to fend for themselves, as their parents did not live with them.
The report found glaring differences in the fortunes of children aged seven to 17 living in rural versus urban areas, as well as in children of different races.
Almost 9% of rural children are child labourers, as opposed to 2% of their urban counterparts.
In addition, 28.3% of African children do not live with either of their parents, which the report found had a negative effect on their school attendance. In contrast, more than three quarters (75.6%) of white children live with both parents.
“What is important is to look at the disruptive nature of their lives when it comes to schooling among black children,” said Lehohla.
“There are a lot of chores that children get engaged in, and their living arrangements at home do not promote school attendance.
“Many black children do not stay with their parents. That is a very difficult situation for them, and they need to be supported in terms of their education.”
Lehohla cited the repeated assertion of education policymakers that parents should be more involved in their children’s schooling, saying that, for many, this was simply not possible.
“These people travel long distances or they don’t stay with their children for a variety of reasons – economic or otherwise – and that [involvement in their offsprings’ education] does not happen,” he said.
Lehohla said teachers were becoming the de facto guardians of many rural children with absent parents.
He added that child-rearing and the workload many children experienced at home – 3.1% of children spend more than 15 hours a week on household chores – needed to be addressed.
The report found that 13.7% of children aged between seven and 10 were expected to do their schoolwork, chores around the house and participate in economic activity such as working in the family’s business.
That percentage increases as children get older, reaching up to 27.7% for teens between the ages of 15 and 17. For children whose parents do not live with them, the figure rises to 30.1%.
“This is not going to be won – that is what these numbers are saying. We need to understand, particularly at the education level, that teachers are the parents of these children. When teachers have to do this kind of thing, they need to be supported,” Lehohla said.
The study also found that 29.2% of children skipped school in 2015 because they were involved in economic activities. The figure is down from 35.7% in 2010.
Children aged 16 to 17 were more likely to be engaged in child labour than other age groups, and African children were the worst affected.
Education expert Professor Mary Metcalfe said that, in her interactions with teachers and schools, she also found that a high number of pupils did not live with their parents.
“There is a higher school dropout rate among pupils in homes where parents are not present,” she said.
“I constantly come across schools where the teachers carry the additional responsibility of caring for children – not only because of parental absence, but also because of extreme poverty. Teachers bring toiletries so that children can wash, and food so that children can eat.
“The care given by teachers and the sacrifice that this entails astounds and moves me. It is additional work undertaken because of the teachers’ deep commitment. It deserves greater support.”
Metcalfe said the approach to parental involvement in schools needed to be more responsive to the needs of grandparents, many of whom were their children’s caregivers. She said social workers needed to be reintroduced to schools, but only a few provinces had this category of support staff.
Metcalfe pointed to the need for closer collaboration with the department of social development.
“We need much more support and imaginative responses to the after-school possibilities of care and support,” she said.
“Pupils can be involved in after-school activities that are emotionally nourishing and build confidence, such as sport and a variety of arts and cultural activities.”
PUT TO WORK A little girl clears up the debris after her home and others burnt down during a fire in an informal settlement