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Children out of school: 

Evidence from the Community Survey 

Brahm Fleisch, Jennifer Shindler and Helen Perry (School of Education, University of the Witwatersrand) 



S ection 3(1) in the South Africa Schools Act requires 
that all children “attend school from the first school 
day of the year in which such learner reaches the age 
of seven years until the last day of the year in which such 
learner reaches the age of fifteen years or the ninth grade 
whichever comes first". This period of compulsory schooling 
from grades 1 - 9 corresponds to the right to basic education 
that is guaranteed by section 29(1 )(a) in the Constitution. 

Since 1994, South Africa has made significant strides in 
improving access to basic education, yet a recent survey 
suggests that approximately 400,000 children are still out of 
school. 

This essay draws on a detailed analysis of the 2007 Com- 
munity Survey to explore patterns of access and exclusion and 
focuses on four key questions: 

■ How many children have access to basic education? 

■ In which areas of the country are children most likely to be 
out of school? 

■ What are the characteristics of children who are out of 
school? 

■ What are the key factors that shape children's access to 
basic education? 

How many children have access to basic 
education? 

A nationally representative Community Survey was conducted 
by Statistics South Africa in February 2007, collecting data for 
949,105 individuals and 246,618 households. The survey 
contains detailed information on educational attendance 1 and 
attainment for all household members, along with data on 
variables such as total annual earnings, employment, health, 
disability and access to social grants. 

Analysis of survey data suggests that access to basic 
education is improving, with an attendance rate of 95.4% for 
grades 1 - 9. The biggest increase was among seven-year- 



1 Attendance data are derived from question 26 of the survey: “Is the person 
currently attending an educational institution?” The data refer to attendance at a point 
in time, and do not necessarily indicate regular attendance at school. These figures 
are also slightly lower than the enrolment figures calculated from the Department of 
Education SNAP surveys. 




PART TWO: Meaningful access to basic education 



41 



PERCENTAGE (%) 



Figure 8: Attendance rates at educational institutions for children aged 6-16 years for 1996, 2001 & 2007 



100 - 
90- 
80- 
70 _ 
60 _ 
50 _ 
40 _ 
30. 
20 _ 
10 
0 



Sources: 1996 and 2001 census data from Statistics South Africa (2007) Community Survey 2007 (Revised Version). Statistical Release P0301 . 24 October. Pretoria: StatsSA. 
Statistics South Africa (2008) 2007 Community Survey raw data. Supplied by StatsSA, September 2008. 

Analysis by Brahm Fleisch, Jennifer Shindler & Helen Perry, University of the Witwatersrand. 

Notes: 

* The 1996 census data was updated when published by Statistics South Africa in 2007. 

* * Shindler (2005) found the census 2001 school-age population data to be somewhat of an undercount, most especially in the 15 - 19-year-old age band. 

+ The percentages for 2007 vary slightly from those published by Statistics South Africa. 








1996 * 2001 ** ■ 2007 + 



olds where attendance increased from 88.4% in 2001 to 94.8% 
in 2007. There has also been a targe increase in the atten- 
dance rate of six-year-olds due to the phasing in of grade R 
and the lowering of the age of school entry to six years in 
2004 2 

While the attendance rate of compulsory school-aged 
children is very high, there are still large numbers of children 
who are out of school. In 2007, just over 408,000 children aged 
seven to 15 years (4.6%) were not attending school. 

The number of children who have never been to school is 
small, at around 58,000, or less than 1% of all children 
between the ages of seven and 15. Nearly one-third of these 
children are seven years old and presumably most of them 
will enrol at school in the next year or two. This suggests that 
most of the 408,000 children not in school either go to school 
late or drop out for various reasons. 

In which parts of the country are children most 
likely to be out of school? 

One of the more interesting findings emerging from the 2007 
Community Survey is the uneven distribution of out-of-school 
children between provinces. The three wealthiest provinces 



(Gauteng, Northern and Western Cape) have the highest 
proportion of children out of school. Poorer provinces such as 
Limpopo, Free State and Mpumalanga record very low pro- 
portions of children out of school. 

A similar pattern can be seen in the cities. The proportion 
of compulsory school-age children out of school in the six 
metropolitan municipalities is consistently higher than the 
national average (5.2% compared to 4.5%), with Johannes- 
burg and Cape Town each showing almost 6% of children not 
in school. 

An analysis of the 25 municipalities with the highest 
percentages of children out of school reveals some surprising 
results. More than a third of these municipalities are located 
in rural parts of the Western Cape, either along the Southern 
Cape coast or in the Karoo. Six municipalities are located in 
the Eastern Cape and three in the Northern Cape — all in 
similar rural farming areas. While more research is needed to 
identify the specific reasons for the high drop-out in these 
municipalities, a Fluman Rights Watch report pointed to child 
labour and the closure of farm schools as contributing factors. 
Research by Adnams, Rosenthal and others found that high 
rates of foetal alcohol syndrome may also account for children 
dropping out of school in these areas. 



2 In terms of the Education Laws Amendment Act of 2002, five-year-old children who were turning six before 30 June could be admitted to grade 1 from January 2004. Despite 
the lowering of the age at which children may begin school, seven remains the age at which compulsory schooling begins. 



42 SOUTH AFRICAN CHILD GAUGE 2008/2009 




What are the characteristics of children out of 
school? 

There are a number of individual and family characteristics 
that may help explain why children are not in school or that 
make it harder for children to access basic education. 

Disability 

The survey data suggest that disability is a significant barrier 
to basic education. While only 167,000 children aged 7-15 
years (1.9%) are reported in the survey as having some type of 
disability, children with disabilities account for nearly 10% of 
the total number of children who are out of school. The survey 
also indicates that children with disabilities have a much 



lower attendance rate than other children, as 38,000 children 
with disabilities (22.5%) were out of school. 

Poverty and social grants 

The survey suggests that access to services and employment 
status do not have a major impact on access to education, but 
that social grants are associated with patterns of attendance. 
Social grants were received by 3,535,000 children (40%) in the 
survey. These children had a higher rate of attendance (96.5%) 
than the school-going population as a whole. Conversely, 
265,400 of children out of school are not receiving social 
grants. While this is “only" 5.1% of school-aged children who 
do not receive social grants, 65% of out-of-school children are 
not receiving social grants. These children in all likelihood are 



Table 7: Individual and family characteristics of children aged 7-15 years who were not in school in 2007 



Number of 
children in 

Characteristics school 


Number of 
children out 
of school 


Total 

number of 
children 


% out of 
school 


% of total 
number of 
children out 
of school 


Total children 7-15 years 


8,565,217 


408,437 


8,973,654 


4.6 


100 


Disability 


129,567 


37,510 


167,077 


22.5 


9 


No disability 


8,435,650 


370,927 


8,806,577 


4.2 


91 


Receiving social grant 


3,410,537 


124,886 


3,535,422 


3.5 


31 


Not receiving social grant 


4,983,297 


265,404 


5,248,701 


5.1 


65 


Piped water from access point outside yard 


1,914,328 


90,980 


2,005,307 


4.5 


22 


Piped water inside dwelling 


3,175,412 


154,232 


3,329,643 


4.6 


38 


Piped water inside yard 


1,847,297 


81,370 


1,928,667 


4.2 


20 


Other water access* 


1,628,181 


81,856 


1,710,037 


4.8 


20 


Electricity for lighting 


6,585,464 


296,886 


6,882,350 


4.3 


73 


Other type of fuel for lighting** 


1,979,753 


111,552 


2,091,305 


5.3 


27 


Both parents alive 


6,393,495 


277,393 


6,670,888 


4.2 


68 


Mother alive, father dead or status not known 


1,399,021 


77,226 


1,476,247 


5.2 


19 


Father alive, mother dead or status not known 


323,301 


18,749 


342,050 


5.5 


5 


Both parents dead or status not known 


449,400 


35,070 


484,470 


7.2 


9 


Born in South Africa 


8,507,042 


397,473 


8,904,515 


4.5 


97 


Born outside South Africa 


47,086 


6,438 


53,524 


12.0 


2 


Place of birth unknown or unspecified 


8,806 


4,526 


13,332 


34.0 


1 


Have not moved in last six years 


7,381,651 


351,420 


7,733,070 


4.5 


86 


Moved in last six years 


1,183,567 


57,017 


1,240,584 


4.6 


14 


Not one person in the household is employed 


3,566,130 


173,762 


3,739,892 4.6 


42 


At least one person in the household is employed 


4,999,087 


234,676 


5,233,763 4.5 


57 



Source: Statistics South Africa (2008) 2007 Community Survey raw data. Supplied by Stats SA, September 2008. 
Analysis by Brahm Fleisch, Jennifer Shindler & Helen Perry, University of the Witwatersrand. 

Notes: 

* Other water access includes borehole, spring, dam/pool, river/stream, water vendor, rain-water tank and other. 
** Other sources of fuel for lighting include gas, paraffin, candles, solar and other. 



PART TWO: Meaningful access to basic education 43 



eligible for social grants, but their parents, grandparents or 
heads of household do not have the means to access them. 

Orphans 

Children who reported that either their mothers or both 
parents were dead (or status unknown) accounted for 9% of 
the total number of children aged 7-15 years. A higher 
proportion of these children were out of school: 5.5% of 
maternal orphans, 5.2% of paternal orphans and 7.2% of 
double orphans (both parents dead) were out of school in 
2007. In total, 32% of children who are out of school have one 
or more parents who are dead (or status unknown). 

Children born outside South Africa 

The number of children born outside South Africa (or where 
the place of birth is either unknown or unspecified) is small 
(67,000 children), but these children have a much lower atten- 
dance rate than average. More than one in 10 children born out- 
side South Africa are not attending school. This increases to 
more than one-third of children whose place of birth is unknown. 

Family structure 

Approximately 5,159,000 children aged 7-15 (15%) live in 
households where their parents are the head of household 
and a further 2,633,000 children (29%) live in households 
where their grandparents or great-grandparents are the head 
of the household. 

A much higher proportion of children living with relatives 
as the head of household who are neither parents nor grand- 
parents (7.6%) are out of school than children who live with 



their biological parents as the head of household (4%). 
Children living with a non-relative who is the head of the 
household are even more vulnerable: 1 0.6% of these children 
are out of school. Research by Anderson in 2000 and 2005 
found that living with a relative improves education outcomes. 

Child-headed households 

Only 23,000 children aged 7-15 (1%) are head or acting head 
of their households, yet a high proportion (17%) of these 
children were out of school. This confirms findings by Case 
and Ardington on the negative impact of child-headed house- 
holds on continuous school attendance. 

What are the key factors that shape children’s 
access to basic education? 

How does the 2007 Community Survey contribute to our 
understanding of school participation? Firstly, it provides a 
good estimate of the number of compulsory school-aged 
children who are out of school. While the attendance rate of 
95.4% is good by international standards, it still leaves 408,000 
children aged 7 - 1 5 out of school. 

Secondly, the survey provides an opportunity to understand 
the profile and characteristics of children who are out of 
school. Wilson's 2004 analysis on the right to education 
suggests that poverty and the government's school-fee policy 
is the reason why many of these children are not in school. 
However, the survey data do not support this as the singular 
reason for children not being in school. In a recently published 
book on why South Africa's school children underachieve in 



Table 8: Household structure and proportion of children enrolled in 2007 



Relationship to head of household 


Number of 
children in 
school 


Number of 
children out 
of school 


Total 

number of 
children 


% out of 
school 


% of total 
number of 
children out 
of school 


Total children 7-15 years 


8,565,217 


408,437 


8,973,654 


4.6 


100 


Son/daughter of the head of the household 


4,951,564 


207,820 


5,159,384 


4.0 


50.9 


Grandchild/great-grandchild of head of household 


2,522,299 


110,988 


2,633,287 


4.2 


27.2 


Adopted son/daughter of head of household 


119,516 


8,753 


128,269 


6.8 


2.1 


Head/acting head of the household 


19,255 


4,006 


23,261 


17.2 


1.0 


Brother/sister of head of household 


219,136 


14,575 


233,711 


6.2 


3.6 


Brother/sister-in-law of head of household 


24,294 


2,279 


26,573 


8.6 


0.6 


Non-related person to the head of the household 


29,407 


3,475 


32,882 


10.6 


0.9 


Other relative to the head of the household 


539,041 


44,381 


583,422 


7.6 


10.9 


Stepchild of the head of the household 


94,135 


5,290 


99,424 


5.3 


1.3 



Source: Statistics South Africa (2008) 2007 Community Survey raw data. Supplied by Stats SA, September 2008. 
Analysis by Brahm Fleisch, Jennifer Shindler & Helen Perry, University of the Witwatersrand. 



44 SOUTH AFRICAN CHILD GAUGE 2008/2009 



reading and maths, FLeisch found that (measured by house- 
hold income] at least 60% of children attending school from 
grades 1 - 9 live in families that are poor. 

What are the conclusions? 

The analysis of the 2007 Community Survey suggests that 
poverty and school fees are unlikely to be a sufficient expla- 
nation as to why children are not in school. If poverty alone is 
not necessarily a barrier to access, then what other factors 
might explain why children are not in school? 

The evidence from the 2007 Community Survey suggests at 
least five broad, but inter-related, factors that may account for 
children not being in school: 

■ Children with various kinds of disability are not attending 
school. 

■ Children living with biological parents or grandparents are 
far more likely to be in school than children living with 
other relatives, with siblings and with people that are not 
relatives, or children who are themselves the head of a 
household. 

■ Children living in households that are, in all likelihood, 
eligible for social grants but who do not receive them are 
also at risk. They may not necessarily be disabled or living 
in a stressed family structure, but for some reason their 
parents or grandparents have not been able to access the 
welfare safety net. 

■ Children who have one or both parents dead or their 
whereabouts unknown are vulnerable to being out of 
school. 

■ Children living on farms and in small towns in the 
Southern Cape and central Karoo have lower attendance 
rates than children from other areas. 

The findings suggest a picture of children living on the margins 
of society. Orphaned and disabled children are vulnerable to 
being out of school, as well as children who are likely to be 
living in households that are excluded from the mainstream 
economy and that struggle to access state services such as 
social grants. These children may also be living on the fringes 
of households, in which other children — the sons, daughters, 
grandsons and granddaughters — receive more favourable 
treatment. Many of these factors overlap at the complex inter- 
section of poverty and social exclusion and suggest further 
issues for analysis. They also suggest that bringing the 408,000 
out-of-school 7 - 15-year-olds into schools will require 
similarly complex interventions from a variety of agencies. 



Sources 

Adnams C, Kodituwakku P, Hay A, Molteno C, Viljoen D & May P (2001) 
Patterns of cognitive-motor development in children with Fetal Alcohol 
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Anderson K (2005) Relatedness and investment in children in South Africa. 
Human Nature, 16(1): 1-31. 

Anderson K (2000) Family structure, parent investment, and educational 
outcomes amongst black South Africans. In: Population Studies Centre 
Research Report 00-461. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan. 

Case A & Ardington C (2006) The impact of parent death on school 
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420. 

Fleisch B (2008) Primary Education in Crisis: Why South African School- 
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The Presidency (2002) Education Laws Amendment Act No. 50 of 2002. 
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Statistics South Africa (2009) Basic results, Community Survey 2007. 
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asp. 

Statistics South Africa (2008) 2007 Community Survey raw data. Supplied 
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PART TWO: Meaningful access to basic education 



45