Community: Education Comes First

Another school year has just started. Liesbet Mohutsiwa reports on the difficult problem of paying school fees.

The South African Schools Act says that if a parent is unable to pay school fees for a child in Grade 1 up to Grade 9 (Standard 7), then the parent can ask for an exemption. But most parents don't know this. They believe that if they don't have money to enroll their children at school, that means the child will be out of school.

Robert Khoza was working at Concor Engineering and was a Numsa member since 1995 up until he was retrenched in June 2002. "I've got three kids," he says, "the eldest is in Standard 8, the second one in Standard 7 and the last one is in Grade 1.

Two of my eldest are at the same school. They have been admitted without school fees and I haven't received any enquiry from the school. I don't have previous outstanding monies at the school, maybe that is why there was no problem for my children," says Khoza. "I don't know what I will do if my children are turned back from school because I can't pay school fees. I am still waiting for my UIF and provident fund monies."

But things are not so good for Nomalady from Orange Farm. A domestic worker for the past seven months, she says, "It was very difficult to get my child's report because I failed to pay school fees last year. I had to borrow money to pay the school fees and now I am struggling to buy books as the school doesn't supply books to children who are doing Standard 8 and upwards."

Thabang, from Orange Farm and a student who completed Standard 10 last year, confirms Nomalady's experience. "Yes from Grade 1 up to Standard 7 we get free education and free books, but from Standard 8 to Standard 10, we had to buy books ourselves and pay the school fees in full.

The school allowed us to participate in school activities but the problem comes at the end of the year whereby you won't get the report if you haven't paid the fees," says Thabang.

But many parents asked don't know of the Schools Act. Even when they are attending school meetings they are not told of this Act. The only thing they are told is, "if you don't pay the fees, your child will be sent home."


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