By Tabelo Timse
FORMER street children trying to turn their lives around are finding it difficult to enter schools because they are either far behind in their grades or have never even been to school.
Maranatha Streetworkers Trust director Trudi Basson said children who had lived on the street were often rejected because they were far behind or too old to start.
She said the trust had developed a gap-year programme for the children to follow before going to mainstream schools as otherwise they tended not to cope. The programme included home schooling with the help of volunteers.
Children as old as 13 had never been to school and sometimes they did not even have birth certificates, so the trust volunteers had to estimate their ages, said Basson.
Khayalethu Youth Centre director Dr Marietjie van der Merwe said schools often complained that it was difficult for the children to catch up.
She said the centre, which provided intervention programmes and alternative care for the children, tried to help them with extra lessons.
Childcare worker Ceryl Bowie, of the Sinethemba Children‘s Home in Knysna, said integrating former street children into the education system was hard work.
“Besides the children losing many years of school, there is also a problem of them being slow learners because they used to drink alcohol and do drugs which affected their brains.”
Bowie said he was working with a 10-year-old boy who had never been to school. The child had a problem remembering. “I try to show him that learning is fun. If we put him in a mainstream school right away he will struggle. It‘s hard work, but he is getting there.”
For older children, the organisation tried to introduce Adult Basic Education and Training (Abet).
Grahamstown‘s Amasango Career School principal Jane Bradshaw said the school had been officially registered as a special needs school in 1996 for street children, age-inappropriate pupils and children from disadvantaged backgrounds.
The school starts from pre-school level and goes to grade seven. The children then join the mainstream high schools.
She said those who had overcome their psychological problems adjusted well and those who still had psychological problems dropped out.
Wits University Education Policy Unit senior researcher Salim Vally said children under 15 who fell within the compulsory stage of the education system could not be turned away under any circumstances by schools.
He said the shelters should approach public litigation groups to make sure the problem received urgent attention.
Eastern Cape education spokesman Loyiso Pulumani said the department offered Abet and Further Education and Training for children who had grade seven.
For children who had never been to school, he said, the organisations should go to education district offices where the children could be referred to schools that had therapists to assist their integration.