Newspaper clipping – The Daily News – 24 February 2010

Age Limit for Schools ?

Pupils as old as 17 and 21 are currently in Grade 8 and 10 classrooms among children where the average ages are 13 and 16 respectively.
“Its disturbing,” said Tom Stokes, a member of the KwaZulu-Natal education portfolio committee, on the issue of age limits in schools.

All education specialists spoken to said that while the compulsory school-going age limit is 15, the schools were bound by the government’s policy of not denying children a right to basic education. All also agreed that other avenues such as Adult Basic Education and Training (ABET) centres and technikons should be explored.

Anthony Pierce, National Professional Teachers Organisation of South Africa’s provincial CEO, said:
“The government didn’t stipulate what the cut-off age is. The debate at the time was about adult basic education and keeping young adults off the street. However, having young adults among young pupils creates a problem, especially in terms of how they relate to each other,” he said. He felt it was not in the best interest of a school to have young adults enrolled and said teachers would also find it difficult to discipline older pupils.

Professor Kobus Maree of the School of Education and the University of Pretoria pointed out that young adults were emotionally and sexually more advanced than their teenaged classmates. He said if they did not master the skills that schools were supposed to teach them, this would lead to intimidating situations for pupils and teachers.

Educational psychologist Anand Ramphal said young pupils would be susceptible to peer pressure and would impair good judgement and fuel risk-taking behaviour, luring teenagers into dangerous activities. During adolescence, he said, children practiced risk-taking behaviour because they were trying to find their own identity and become more independent. He said this made them vulnerable to experimenting with drugs and drinking, especially if there was peer pressure to do so.

Stokes said pupils with more than a two-year age gap in any grade was contrary to the Department of Education’s policy. He said the walls of leadership within schools was very important:
“Upgrading the quality of principals at schools would be a start. They have a challenging job, but many don’t have the necessary skills.”

Sundrum Subramoney, Chatsworth chairman of the South African Principals’ Association, said schools were obliged to accept pupils and the new curriculum had not helped because there was no leeway for pupils to be automatically promoted to the next grade.
"There are no condoned passes. Previously a child was not allowed to stay longer than four years in a phase (general education and training and further education and training phases), “ he said.
  “Even if a child keeps on failing, the school can’t ask the child to leave. The department has not given us a restriction in terms of failing. We can suggest ABET colleges to parents, but because the cost is higher, parents bring their children back to school.” Subramoney said young adults in school were problematic especially on a maturity level and their influence on the younger pupils.

Sayed Rajack, chairman of the KZN Parents Association, said principals had a right to turn away pupils.
“You can’t put a 21-year-old in a Grade 7 or 8 class – an adult in a class with children who are just starting to learn about things. The compulsory school age limit is 15. If older pupils are enrolled in a school with 900 younger pupils and if they disrupt schooling, the principal has a right to make a decision,” he said.

Rajack said an adult was less likely to take instruction from a figure of authority than a younger pupil. He agreed that ABET was another avenue for parents to explore, but said many parents chose the easiest and cheapest option of school admission.
“Every child has a right to basic education, but this is not an absolute right. An adult is not a child, “ he said.

According to a KZN Department of Education’s pupil admission policy for public schools, if a pupil is three years or more above the normal grade age, the principal, after consultation with the school governing body, may admit the pupil to an appropriate grade in the school or to a bridging programme if approved by a department ward manager.
 “A (pupil) who is 16 or older and who has never attended school and is seeking admission for the first time, or has not made sufficient progress with his or her peer group, must be encouraged to enroll at an ABET centre,” the policy reads.