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On teacher absenteeism

“Every day five teachers on average are absent from South African township schools. It is virtually impossible to manage a school effectively under such circumstances.

Even teachers who are physically present are emotionally absent, Jonathan Jansen, Distinguished Professor of Education at Stellenbosch University, said at the launch of the Khula Sayso project, aimed at promoting school attendance. Also, they are spiritually absent and intellectually absent. “How can we expect children to come to school when teachers are ‘absent’?” he asked.

Khula Sayso, sponsored by the DG Murray Trust, is a collaboration between Khula Development Group, the Paarl Junior Town Council (JTC) Advocacy Committee and Nederburg and Orleansvale Primary schools in Paarl East.

“The teaching profession has lost its soul, not its techniques, which can be learnt at workshops,” Jansen told local teachers who attended the launch.

“Teachers cannot blame children who don’t want to come to school if they [the teachers] are ‘absent’. What does it mean to be present? Children are the dependent variable. What they can do, want to do and will do, depends entirely on what the adults around them do — that is the theory of education. What a child does depends entirely on the input of educators.

“There is nothing wrong with our children. There are many reasons why they do not attend school: poverty, dependency on Tik, and so on. But there’s another issue … it is not worth their while to attend school because the teachers are not always ‘there’! We must change this culture — every child must feel they are the only reason the teacher is there. You are the difference between poverty and hope!”

According to Daleen Labuschagne, Khula Chief Operating Officer, Khula Sayso has a two-pronged approach targeting both learners and their primary caregivers as well as teachers to promote and improve school attendance. The project was born from her concern over the large number of school drop-outs.

It works with 26 schools and receives 25 referrals per month of children who have not attended school for more than three consecutive days.

“This echoes the national state of affairs – where will this lead our country to?” Labuschagne asked.

“The principals and staff will select learner leaders from each school to participate in the leadership mentoring programme,”

Mariette Jacobs of Ezrah Community Training and Development NPC is training the involved Paarl Junior Town Council (JTC) councillors (Gr. 10- and Gr. 11-learners from Paarl high schools), to mentor the elected primary school leaders on leadership and topics to promote school attendance. They, in turn, will share their knowledge in smaller groups with their peers and give feedback to their mentors to form an ongoing cycle of information sharing and leadership growth.

This project is about child participation and, therefore, two learners and two teachers will sit on the Khula Sayso School Committee. They will jointly decide on the most appropriate way to establish a culture of school attendance in their school. The project will also engage professionally skilled consultants to help teachers sharpen their teaching skills and rediscover a love for teaching and the art of engaging effectively with learners.

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