Education Plan Set to Benefit Poorest Pupils

( [email protected] ) Jun 26, 2003 01:23 PM EDT

The South African government has launched a programme that is expected to ease access to education for the country's poorest pupils.
The "Action Plan", announced by Education Minister Kader Asmal and approved by cabinet, will start next year by providing free education for the poorest 20 percent of the country's pupils.
The plan, based on a means test, will also scrap school fees for pupils who qualify for certain social service grants and payments.
At a later stage, the poorest 40 percent of schools will also have to get approval from the education department to charge fees, and provide a motivation for charging, the plan says.
"These decisions of cabinet are extremely profound and far-reaching as they move us even closer towards improving access to free and quality basic education for all," a statement by the minister said.
Poor pupils can already apply for a fee exemption based on their parents' income, but the current method of calculation excludes many.
The plan would eventually be extended to the poorest 60 percent of the country's pupils.
Equitable funding across the provinces would also be put in place to ensure that poor pupils in Gauteng province receive the same funding as pupils in the Eastern province.
"The goal of access to free quality basic education for all will eventually be realised in our country. This 'Action Plan' is a step in that direction, and when it is fully implemented, 60 percent or more of our learners will have access to a free quality basic education, which is funded by the government," Asmal said.
A review of school uniform policy, whereby poor pupils would not be forced to buy the uniforms, is also included.
Commenting on the plan, Salim Vally, senior researcher at the Education Policy Unit of the University of Witwatersrand, told IRIN the new policy was a step in the right direction and brings South Africa closer to countries - many poorer than South Africa - who already provide free education. But it was still not in line with the UN's conventions and protocols.
He said research conducted over the past year showed that fee costs were not the only obstacle to education.
"Families face secondary costs like transport, uniforms and levies imposed by schools from time to time," Vally said, adding that thousands of schools did not have adequate electricity, sanitation, libraries and laboratories.