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Mthembu, Ntokozo  (2006) Give all youngsters an equal chance at success. Centre for Civil Society : -.

We know that access to basic education is a fundamental human right for
every child. We know that South Africa has a clear obligation to provide
free basic education to all children. But why is it that expulsion from
schools is still the norm for many children from disadvantaged backgrounds?

Recently I witnessed a mass expulsion of about 25 pupils for non-payment
of their school fees while I was waiting to see the principal of one of
the high schools in a township - one of those created for apartheid
purposes as a labour reserve next to the city of Durban.

This township, with its clusters of shacks and informal settlements,
provides a stark contrast to the shopping centre situated nearby.

Witnessing the expulsion of the pupils was a sobering moment. The only
fault of the pupils was that they happened to be poor. This approach is
detrimental to the building of young minds as well as the future nation.

If we are a "new society" that preaches that the "doors of learning
shall be open to all", it is an outrage that this sentiment was not
present in a township school where there is the greatest need for it.

It is not fair to penalise pupils because of their economic status. This
type of learning experience is obviously traumatising and devaluing to
those pupils who are summarily expelled for non-payment of school fees.
It also raises other critical questions - for example, around the role
of teachers.

Teachers have an important role to play in ensuring that schoolchildren
are treated with dignity and fairness in the classroom.

This begs the question: What is the future of the expelled pupils,
especially considering that the mid-year examinations are imminent?
Something has to be done.

I therefore opted to give the head of the school a call about this
situation. After talking to the principal over the phone about the
status of the expelled pupils, he said those pupils had been expelled
because their parents had failed to fulfil their promise to pay on the
agreed date.

He further explained that the parents had a platform where they could
highlight their concern or problems about school fees, which they did
not use.

I inquired why this platform was not being used by the principal to
discuss such problems before the pupils were expelled. The expulsion
causes humiliation, and all means should be exhausted in order to make
sure that pupils do not suffer such trauma. The principal did not really
have an answer. However, he said that the pupils would be permitted to
write examinations.

How does this happen to young people who are poor?

It is important to understand legislation pertaining to the issue of
non-payment of school fees. The legislation needs to be clearer to avoid
the provision of loopholes for unscrupulous educators to act unfairly
against pupils who cannot afford to pay school fees.

Legislation concerning the payment of school fees states: "The state
must fund public schools from public revenue on an equitable basis in
order to ensure the proper exercise of the rights of learners to
education and the redress of past inequalities in educational
provision". There is a direct responsibility on the governing bodies to
fund-raise to avoid the expulsion of pupils.

Statistics in South Africa's 2004 report show that in KwaZulu-Natal in
1999 about 49% of pupils were illiterate, compared to 41% in South
Africa as a whole. In addition, KZN had the highest number of illiterate
adults - 1 982 845 - followed by the Eastern Cape with 1 517 890.
Mpumalanga had the highest pupil-educator ratio, followed by KwaZulu-Natal.

Furthermore, statistics in 2001 showed a proportional increase of
African youth above 18 who were not attending any educational
institution. This is a sad state of affairs for black youth in KZN and,
indeed, the country.

It could be argued that such expulsions are responsible for forcing many
black youngsters to opt for low-paying jobs in the retail sector which
do not require high levels of education or skill.

This means that the only jobs these black youths have access to are
low-paid, temporary, and non-unionised, with low or no benefits. This
ensures a vicious cycle of non-development, marginalisation and further

In conclusion, the practice of expulsion of pupils for non-payment of
school fees is one that perpetuates inequitable development, in much the
same way as apartheid. How can we say we have a single education system
while pupils continue to be treated differently and according to the
attitudes and wishes of the authorities at that particular time? The
education system does not serve the rights of disadvantaged and
marginalised pupils to education.

Ntokozo Mthembu is the outreach officer at the Centre for Civil Society.

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