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South Africa: Poor parents miss out on fees waiver

No state school opening its doors over the next two weeks is likely to waive fees, despite Education Minister Naledi Pandor’s promise to that effect, EI affiliate SADTU said.

Since 2002, the South African government has promised that some state schools would stop charging fees so that SA’s poorest parents would be able to send their children to school. Yet Pandor and her predecessor, Kader Asmal, have missed the 2004 and 2005 deadlines to pass legislation granting this reprieve to South Africa’s poor, despite Pandor’s assertion last year that the poorest 20% of schools would not charge fees from the start of the 2006 school year. According to the 2005 United Nations Development Programme , 34% of South Africa’s population lives on less than $2 a day, and 11% on less than $1. While poor parents are legally entitled, in certain circumstances, to have school fees waived, this legal protection is rarely implemented, with provincial education departments and schools neither informing parents of their rights nor ensuring they are granted. SADTU said on Friday the failure to pass the legislation was a disappointment. Even though the legislation was not passed, the national education department has put the ball in the provincial court, saying the provinces should implement the policy where they can. However, a ‘poverty index’ that the provinces are supposed to be able to use to determine which schools should not charge fees has yet to be finalised . “We are not ready. We don’t know when we are getting the new norms and standards,” said Gauteng education department spokesman Mbela Phetlhe. SADTU spokesman Jon Lewis said provincial budgets showed that the poorer provinces, such as Eastern Cape, were not prepared in any way to implement the “voluntary” fee-free school programme, while some of the wealthier provinces had done some preparatory work.

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