What if your school doesn’t offer classes beyond Grade 9?

Teachers at Gwebityala Senior Secondary School in the Eastern Cape make do with limited infrastructure. A number of learners live in remote areas and have to cross rivers to get to school. These often flood in heavy rains preventing learners from getting to and from school.

Imagine that you are learner living in a rural village in South Africa. You dream of becoming a doctor or a lawyer, and moving to the city. Before you can do all that, you must first complete high school. You wake up each morning at the crack of dawn to prepare for a long walk to get to school. The path takes you through a dense bush and you have to strip down below the waist every time you reach a river separating you from the school. To make matters worse, there are no schools within walking distance that offer classes beyond Grade 9.

Section 29 of the South African Constitution guarantees the right to basic education, but for many children in impoverished and rural parts of the country, realising that right is a daily struggle and this contributes to the country’s dropout rate.

For example, learners in Malanga, outside Dundee in KwaZulu-Natal, were photographed crossing the uMzinyathi river on foot, at least twice a day, to get to and from school[1]https://www.iol.co.za/mercury/news/almost-a-decade-later-and-kzn-pupils-still-brave-raging-rivers-to-get-to-school-41276003. Those who cannot bear to make the journey each day end up dropping out of school.

Challenges in accessing education

A school is considered “far” if a child has to travel more than 30 minutes to reach it, irrespective of mode of transport[2]http://www.ci.uct.ac.za/ci/child-gauge/2018. Having access to a well-functioning and safe school is a necessary condition for the fulfilment of one’s right to education. However, a school’s location and distance, the lack of reliable transport and dangers associated with walking to school act as barriers to education[3]Ibid. This is most pronounced among low-income households that do not have money to pay for private transport.

Structural problems

A school’s environment must also be conducive to teaching and learning, which is not always the case in low-resource communities. According to a report published by the National Education Infrastructure Management System (NEIMS) in 2019, plain pit latrines are the only form of toilets at 3710 schools, and 169 schools do not have any form of electricity supply[4]https://www.education.gov.za/Portals/0/Documents/Reports/NEIMS%20standard%20reports%202019.pdf?ver=2019-09-27-150623-250.

Finding solutions

In a rural part of the Mbhashe Municipality in the Eastern Cape, the Bulungula Incubator, a non-profit organisation (NPO) established in 2007, is working on finding solutions for communities where opportunities for quality schooling are scarce.

Using data from surrounding schools, the NPO found that around 95% of learners from the Xhora Mouth Administrative Area, living in a cluster of small villages in the region, are simply unable to finish their matric because nearby schools only offer classes until Grade 9.

Due to limited public transport options, those who want to complete high school have to rent a place to stay away from home and care for themselves[5]https://bulungulaincubator.org/.

In this area, the Bulungula Incubator is stepping in to fill the gap by establishing a college to provide high school and vocational training in an area where there was no option to complete school[6]Ibid. After its first year of operation, the college recorded a 90% pass rate and retained nearly 100% of its students.

For many children living in poverty, having the right to education is not enough, because we also need to give effect to this right by improving access to education. All children deserve the opportunity to grow up and build a better life for themselves.


1 https://www.iol.co.za/mercury/news/almost-a-decade-later-and-kzn-pupils-still-brave-raging-rivers-to-get-to-school-41276003
2 http://www.ci.uct.ac.za/ci/child-gauge/2018
3, 6 Ibid
4 https://www.education.gov.za/Portals/0/Documents/Reports/NEIMS%20standard%20reports%202019.pdf?ver=2019-09-27-150623-250
5 https://bulungulaincubator.org/