WHAT OUR KIDS DO

A new sur­vey re­veals how labour ac­tiv­i­ties take prece­dence over school­ing

CityPress - - Front Page - MSINDISI FENGU msindisi.fengu@city­press.co.za

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

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