- The South African Education Ministry has announced that with effect from next year, there will be free education provided to over five million children in the country. The development resulted after a court ruled against 17 schools in KwaZulu-Natal that filed an application against the implementation of the no-fee policy.
In total, 5,001,874 learners from 13,865 schools in South Africa will be the beneficiaries of the no-fee policy for the 2007 academic year, according to a statement issued yesterday by the Ministry.
The South African government said it had initiated the policy to "end marginalisation of learners of poor families," which is in tandem with the country's constitution that guarantees all citizens' right to basic education.
After President Thabo Mbeki appended his signature on the Education Amendment Bill, which got parliamentary approval, the Minister of Education, Naledi Pandor, announced the no-fee education policy.
Receiving the promulgation of the law with joy, nine out of South Africa's 11 provinces already began drafting their list of schools and learners. Education officials said the densely populated and poor provinces such as KwaZulu-Natal would have the highest number of beneficiaries of the free education. That province alone has 1,173,503 pupils at 3,341 no-fee schools.
Qualification for the policy would be measured by the poverty index supplied by South Africa's statistics department and that it is incumbent on qualified schools to inform parents that their poor children would not pay fees.
However, based on the poverty levels of some areas, the national Education Minister is mandated to exempt certain schools in these areas to charge fees.
South Africa is a unique country in Africa that preaches equality and shuns discrimination of all forms in society. As a result, its education officials are developing a framework that will subsidise schools in affluent areas if they enrol non-fee paying students.
The news was greeted with joy by the radical Youth League of the ruling African National Congress (ANCYL), with its officials describing the court ruling in favour of the policy as "ground breaking".
"This policy will not only open the doors of learning to millions of South African's, who otherwise would not be able to access education, but an advancement and a step towards attainment of a strategic goal of a Free Basic Compulsory Education," ANCYL stated.
Despite the high costs awaiting his province, the Superintendent General of KwaZulu-Natal, Cassius Lubisi, earlier defended the no-fee policy, which according to him was introduced to provide education to all children of school going age.
He said until now, many children had been denied access to education mainly because of the low socio-economic status of their families. "Children from poor families have had their report cards and examination results withheld because their parents could not afford to pay compulsory school fees," he said.
Mr Lubisi wondered why misunderstanding shrouded around the no-fee policy. "The average rand 565 allocation is split into two portions, namely the basic allocation and the learning and teaching support material allocation. The basic allocation covers various items, including a portion that could be top sliced for school fees," he said, adding that the allocation includes money for textbooks and stationery.
South Africa is the country in continental Africa having the highest literacy rate, set at 82.4 percent according to the latest UN figures. Some 76.6 percent of South Africans have access to schools at all levels. There are however still great differences among poor and rich and among races when it comes to literacy and school enrolment in South Africa, and these differences are not seen as acceptable by government and the population.
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