‘Missing’ children crisis hits schools

Thousands not included in statistics straining resources, principals say

Thousands of pupils are “missing” from what has been described as a flawed education administration system, leaving schools short of money, teachers, food and essential supplies.

In a complete reversal of the “ghost-teacher” phenomenon, the children are attending school but are not on the centralised system’s books and therefore not being funded by the Department of Education.

Up to 12 000 pupils could be affected in the Eastern Cape alone.

Principals and education experts are now calling for a complete overhaul of the SA School Administration and Management System (SA-SAMS), saying it has caused a shortage of school and nutrition funding, shortages of stationery and textbooks, and even fewer teachers.

The Department of Basic Education’s administrative operating system – which has been in place since 2005 – is an integrated programme designed to inform the province and department on pupils, their subjects, textbooks, marks, assigned teachers and more.

But principals have become increasingly concerned about its drawbacks as it requires the input of pupils’ identification numbers.

They say where an identification number is not available, the pupil is simply not acknowledged.

The principals claim there are thousands of foreign pupils and pupils with identification number irregularities, and many more who do not have access to their birth certificates who are not being recognised.

Sapphire Road Primary acting principal Alicia Baatjies said the system ought to be upgraded to make provision for pupils who did not have access to their ID numbers.

“We have pupils who have been removed from their parents for various reasons and children who are now living with grandparents or other family members,” she said.

Their parents refused to give their birth certificates, so they could draw child-care grants. Baatjies said pupils who transferred from other schools were also not recognised as the system indicated the child attended two schools and the pupil was thus not reflected at either school.

A northern areas school deputy principal, who did not want to be named, said there were 59 foreign pupils at the school who were not accounted for.

“The system requires the child’s name, South African ID number, contact details, parents’ details and more,” he said.

“It does not pick up foreign ID numbers so we lose out on funding, textbooks and teachers for those children.”

The deputy head said because foreign nationals had not been identified by the department, the school stood to lose five teachers next year, down from 26 to 21.

“Because we are a quintile 3 school, we receive R600 per child but because those children are not recognised we receive about R30 000 less for our school budget and R9 000 less for school nutrition,” he said.

Dietrich Primary principal Ismail Salie said eight pupils at the school were not reflected on the system because they did not have valid ID numbers.

“Double registration is a huge problem and there are schools that stand to lose teachers,” he said.

Helenvale Primary principal Malcolm Roberts said the gender of five pupils at the school was listed incorrectly at the Department of Home Affairs.

“We have been battling as they are not reflected on the system simply because their ID numbers indicate the wrong gender."

“We do not get funding or textbooks for these children,” Roberts said.

Northern Areas Education Forum secretary Richard Draai said the forum was aware of many children who were not reflected on the system because of duplicate registrations.

“This leaves our children and our schools deprived as it affects everything from funding to textbooks – the works,” he said.

Education specialist Professor Susan van Rensburg said schools were encouraged by the department to accept foreign pupils.

“These pupils cannot be turned away from schools, but the schools then end up not receiving any money or learning material,” she said.

“The department cannot simply turn a blind eye to these children.” DA education MPL Edmund van Vuuren said he was aware of the problem."

“If it [the system] does not reflect that the pupil is enrolled, then that has a huge impact,” he said.

“There could be as many as 6 000 to 12 000 pupils not reflected and schools could lose teachers because of this.” National education spokesman Elijah Mhlanga said the department was in the process of upgrading the system.

“The modernised SA-SAMS will be a web-enabled system that will have external online validations with the National Population Register of the Department of Home Affairs,” he said.

According to Mhlanga, the pupil profiles enabled the system to differentiate between South African citizens and foreign pupils.

“South African citizens are identified by their ID numbers and foreign learners by a passport number or ID number in case of residency,” he said.

“Also included is a field to capture info on the learners’ study permits. “There is no rejection of any learner on SA-SAMS."

“Reasons must be given why documents are not available.”

But the deputy principal who did not want to be identified insisted that foreign pupils were not reflected.

Mhlanga said: “It is possible the demand for resources far exceeds the provision, particularly because foreign nationals do not generally apply for admission in schools as per our schedule and guidelines."

“They arrive in the country and go to our schools after planning and deliveries have already been concluded.”