Despite the early morning chill, a crowd of young people – from school-age learners to students and young adults – began arriving at the Loftus Park in Pretoria from 9am to participate in the National Youth Coalition’s (NYC) annual Youth Day Parade for Justice and Change.
Formally endorsed by nearly 100 organisations, including the Zero Dropout Campaign, Defend our Democracy and Amnesty International South Africa, the event provided a platform for young people from a range of backgrounds to demand action on issues such as unemployment, climate injustice, unequal education, gender-based violence and healthcare.
“In South Africa, it’s currently estimated that 40% of learners who start Grade 1 don’t complete matric,” said Kendra Steward, from the Zero Dropout Campaign. Despite the fact that almost a fifth of the national spending went towards education, the average child in South Africa would complete 9.3 years of schooling. “In the poorest schools, this translates to just 5.1 years of actual learning,” she said.
Steward described this as a “crisis” and explained that the crisis was caused by colluding factors. “To keep kids in school, we need to advocate for safer, resourced, nurturing, engaging and enjoyable spaces where young people can focus on learning and personal development without fear of abuse or corporal punishment,” she said.
Political will, or more accurately, the lack thereof, had to be blamed for learning barriers and the dropout rate. “Just last month, the MEC for education here in Gauteng revealed that 110,381 fewer learners enrolled in school for 2022 than they did in 2021, with no explanation,” she said.
“In March, a month before that, over 5,000 learners in KZN went weeks without desperately needed meals due to an unfulfilled tender by a politically connected businessman,” she added.
Learners, in collaboration with educators, parents and communities, had a part to play in reducing the dropout rate.
“The class of 1976 courageously transformed their schools, communities, and the future of this very country – and now it’s your turn,” she said.