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S.Africa school enrolment drops a third straight year

The percentage of South African children in school dropped for a third straight year in 2010 as the economic crisis made school fees an unaffordable luxury for some families, a government report said.

Some 14 million children and young adults — 72.8 percent of South Africans aged seven to 24 — attended school or university last year, down from 73.9 percent in 2009, said the government statistics agency’s annual household survey.

In 2007, before the onset of the global economic crisis, 75.2 percent of that age group was enrolled in an educational institution.

“After the steady increase in attendance rates between 2002 and 2007, the General Household Survey 2010 found a slight decline in attendance rates relative to 2007,” the study said.

“This could be a reflection of the poor state of the economy. A lack of money for fees remains the primary reason for a large proportion of individuals in this age group who were not studying.”

Other factors keeping kids out of school included the demand for children to work at home, their family responsibilities and negative attitudes about the usefulness of formal education, the study found.

But it said “no fee” schools and other programmes to help poor families educate their children were helping curb the number of drop-outs.

“The data also suggest that the ‘no fee’ school system and other funding initiatives are beginning to show (their) effect. The percentage of learners who reported that they paid no tuition fees increased from 0.7 percent in 2002 to 54.6 percent in 2010,” it said.

The ruling African National Congress has named education one of its top priorities, together with health and security.

South Africa’s constitution guarantees the right to a basic education, and the national education budget has grown consistently since the end of apartheid in 1994.

But while top schools offer a world-class education, one-fourth of schools are dilapidated, especially in townships on the outskirts of cities and in rural areas, where the country’s black majority is concentrated.

The country’s education profile is also racially skewed at the university level, the study found.

Among people aged 18 to 29, 17.4 percent of whites were studying at university, while just 3.5 percent of mixed-race and 3.1 percent of black South Africans were enrolled.