SHOCKING statistics on South African schools have revealed that the Eastern Cape has the highest rate of pupil deaths in the country, while nationally an alarmingly high number of primary schoolgirls are falling pregnant.
In one year alone, more than 100 Grade 3 pupils fell pregnant nationally with the figure jumping to almost 300 for girls in Grade 5.
The deeply disturbing results of research also showed the Eastern Cape recorded the highest pupil mortality rate, with 2551 pupils dying while enrolled at schools in 2009 alone – up from 2026 the previous year.
Of these pupils, 1737 died of illnesses, 106 committed suicide and 575 died in accidents. A further 133 died as a result of violence and homicide – the highest number in the country.
The research, contained in a report compiled by the Basic Education Department and released earlier this month, details a litany of negative circumstances under which the country’s children are expected to complete their school careers.
The report, Annual Surveys for Ordinary Schools for 2009/10, found that:
ıIn 2009, about 109 pupils fell pregnant in Grade 3 alone – up from 17 in the same grade in 2008. In Grade 4, the number increased to 107 from 67 in 2008, and in Grade 5, 297 girls fell pregnant in 2009;
ıThe highest concentration of pregnant pupils was from grades 7 to 9. In 2009, 45276 girls fell pregnant;
ıOnly 25% of ordinary schools had internet in 2010, and about 54% of schools had land-line telephones. Only 3% of schools in Limpopo had access to broadband compared to 98% of those in the Western Cape; and
ıAbout 26% of schools had multigrade classes in 2010, and the majority came from the Eastern Cape.
Other societal factors mentioned in the report show that up to a million children grew up without fathers while many others depend on the country’s extensive social grant network for financial support.
The report, drawn from information culled from surveys conducted in March every year in all ordinary schools, only focuses on pupils, and the department is expected to release separate research on teachers at a later stage.
An education expert yesterday warned that should these challenges not receive urgent attention, South Africa would pay a significant price in the future.
Professor Kobus Maree, a lecturer in educational psychology at the University of Pretoria, said the alarmingly high pregnancy rate in Grade 3 was "deeply upsetting”.
He said a large number of these children fell pregnant because of rape or abuse.
"This is really unacceptable. Of all those children who fall pregnant in Grade 3, how many rapists are brought to book? If you look at these figures, that means there are so many rapists in the country walking around free.”
Maree said teachers to whom he had spoken felt that life orientation had been dumped on them without adequate training. He recommended that government make community service compulsory for child psychologists, in order to have them assist in teacher training in schools.
He said many pupils in higher grades often fell pregnant in order to access social grants.
The number of children on child grants was also a reflection of the reliance on the social network provided by government.
The number of pupils receiving social grants increased from 2813976 in 2009 to 3110688 in 2010.
In 2010, 37% of all pupils in the Eastern Cape received the monthly grant of R260.
Maree said while government had to shoulder much of the blame, parents were also responsible for failing their own children as they did not give enough support.
The report also reveals that in 2010 more than 40% of government schools relied on a principal’s cellphone for communication.
Two of the poorest provinces, the Eastern Cape and Limpopo, relied on cellphones the most at 69% and 71% respectively.
Maree said while government had boldly stated its intentions by allocating a large chunk of its budget towards education, incompetent and less determined public officials were costing the state by not driving delivery of infrastructure and resources at ground level.
He cited the recent Pretoria High Court judgment which ordered the Basic Education Department to deliver text books to pupils in Limpopo by June 15.
"It goes without saying that the schools have such a backlog, that the divide at Grade 12 is huge,” Maree said.
He said government needed to hire qualified employees to clean up the system.
Additional reporting by Estelle Ellis