January 18, 2008

Back to School

I’ve got education on the brain because school started again this week in South Africa after the summer break. Children here have to pay fees to go to the public schools, for the necessary uniforms, and for the books as well. As you can imagine, that’s a bit difficult for many of the unemployed people in Itipini so the African Medical Mission fronts the fees for the children and the parents pledge to (but rarely do) pay it back. It has been a logistically-challenging and hectic week as we try to sort out which child needs which size uniform, which books, and which grade he or she should be in. But for the most part, things run pretty smoothly and children are going back to school.

I’ve learned a lot in the process and here are some things that interested me.

  • The schools don’t have places for all the children who want to go. According to the news, class sizes are over 50 (they’re supposed to be capped at 35 or so) and still schools are turning away “thousands” of students because they simply cannot fit them.
  • Not every child in Itipini has a mother or father who cares enough to make sure they sign up for school. We try to make things as easy as possible for people but still I see many children running around during the day who are not in school. Part of me wants to corral all these children, put them in uniforms, march them off to school, and pay their fees. But I know it wouldn’t last. I won’t be there every morning to get them dressed, feed them, and send them off to school. The impetus for education needs to come from the child or the family.
  • The school day, particularly for the primary students, is not all that long. I think they start around 8 and are generally back around noon or 1.
  • School fees – not including uniforms and other necessary supplies – for primary students is about 80 rand for the entire year, which is less than $15 U.S. For high school students, it is a totally different story. The school fees alone for the high school are 715 rand per term, more than $100 U.S. per term or $400 per year. Even South Africans with jobs have difficulty paying that.

It is really easy to be negative about the educational future these children face and I have succumbed to those thoughts at times this week. But what has kept me upbeat is seeing the pre-school children who graduated last December march off to school in their new uniforms. They have that same combination of nerves and excitement that children around the world must get as they prepare for a major transition in their young lives. I only hope they can continue on the path they are starting out on this week.


Anonymous said...

Hi yes I can identify with you as I am here in he South Durban basin have watch the schools on a daily basis turn children and parents away. I have had fights with Headmasters and SGB that are more money mad than dedicated to their professions. Last year alone we placed more than 350 children back into schools. We have taught parents to fund raise and once again become families in the schools. We have alo of unemployed or single parents and even child headed households. I am rigidt in the SASA as ammended and use it to make schools and their SGB included their circuit managers and I report back to the MEC office on all default schools. Chat to me as I have dreams of y own to build schools especially for orphans and children who have dropped out of school at a primary age.

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