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article imageS.African schools in crisis due to turbo-AIDS

By Adriana Stuijt     Jan 20, 2009 in World
South Africa's school system is in crisis, with at least 100,000 teachers and administrators HIV+, and two provincial education systems facing a takeover by the central government due to the large drop in pupil numbers and poor exam results.
South Africa's National Association of School Governing Bodies see demanded this week that the school fees for the country's poor pupils should be paid from the State coffers because parents and guardians are unable to pay them. Education in South Africa is compulsory, yet the government demands that even the poorest pupils must pay school fees, said the NASGB spokesman.
Also, the school systems in at least two of the worst-afflicted provinces are collapsing due to the co-infection epidemics of AIDS and XDR-TB among both the staff and the pupils. url=http://www.digitaljournal.com/article/264956 t=_blank] see
On Tuesday, the country's education minister announced that he would soon hold urgent talks with the Eastern Cape authorities - where the school system is said to be close to collapse.
In 2006, the country's teachers already showed a 21% HIV-infection rate. And the KwaZulu-Natal province's educational system is also facing similar problems to those experienced in the Eastern Cape, problems which are worsened by the country's growing crisis inside its political leadership.
The poor educational results are mainly due -- educators say -- to the growing death rate from so-called 'Turbo-AIDS' - a combination of AIDS and Extremely Drug-Resistant TB, the country's school-age population is thus facing serious problems: high drop-out rates due to disease and crime and a failing educational infrastructure, and a severe lack of healthy teachers to keep the schools running.
The average life expectancy in South Africa last year dropped below 54 years – previously, without AIDS , it was more than 64.
The World Health Organisation estimates that over half of all the country's 15 year olds are not expected to reach the age of 60 and the soaring school drop-out rates of the past two years reflect this.
In one province, KwaZuluNatal, there's now a shortage of some 90,000 or more teachers: most have died of the combination of AIDS and XDR-TB. see see video
Hospitals are struggling to cope with the number of HIV-related patients that they have to care for - 60-70% of all medical expenditure in SA public hospitals now is for the care of AIDS-TB patients.
South Africa in 2007 showed an official under-18 population of 18-million young people, of whom 5-million were younger than five years of age -- however school attendance rates are much lower.
School attendance -- especially in the poorest, most AIDS-ridden regions such as KwaZulu Natal, Gauteng and the Eastern Cape -- has dropped dramatically throughout the past two years.
There just aren't enough teachers and administrators any more to maintain a working school system in most of the provinces, and this causes a steadily collapsing educational system: last year's high school exams suffered from a very low 36,2% pass-rate.
The main reason, according to the World Bank, is the high level of HIV-AIDS and TB deaths amongst the country's teachers, who are mostly female. In 2008, the World Bank wrote that some 122,000 teachers in Sub-Saharan African countries were HIV-positive, with 80% being in South Africa.
The previous education minister Kader Asmal already rang the alarm bell in 2006, warning of a very serious teachers' shortage.The World Bank warned that year that some twelve percent of all of the country's teachers were infected with HIV.
It announced that even more funding would be poured into the problem in 30 sub-Saharan countries, to the tune of $1.5bn - with South Africa getting the lion's share.
Asmal first raised the issue at a 3-day AIDS conference in Johannesburg - this government minister was the first one in the then-Mbeki cabinet - which denied the problem -- to acknowledge the high level of AIDS-deaths among educators and pupils. He described it as 'a serious problem.' see
The worst-affected provinces were KwaZulu-Natal and the Eastern Cape, both situated along the eastern seaboard. One in four residents in those provinces were HIV carriers -- and it was projected in 2006 that 70,000 new teachers would be needed by 2010 just to replace the sick and dying instructors in KwaZulu-Natal province alone.
Research associate Peter Badcock-Walters of the University of Natal's AIDS research division, warned that HIV-prevalence in their rural pre-natal clinics -- i.e. child-bearing age young women -- was very high. Based on his studies, he said that a full 36 percent of the east coast region's pregnant women were HIV-positive -- some clinics already registering 60% infection rates. And that was three years ago.
Glenn Abrahams, chairman of the country's teacher regulatory body, the South African Council of Educators, said this had a 'dismal' effect on the entire school system.
But it's not only the country's teachers who are dying of AIDS: the older pupils clearly are also dropping out in massive numbers for some unstated reason: there was a total enrollment of 920,716 pupils in grade 11 in 2007 - yet the very next year, only 64% had written exams, and only 333,681 - 36,2%, had obtained a high school certificate.
Nobody knows what has happened to the missing 36% of those 2007 grade 11 pupils who did not write exams last year... These results were announced by the SA Institute for Race Relations, Frans Cronjé - counteracting claims by the education minister that the country's high-school pass rate had been 62.5%.
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The primary schools also show an unexplained drop in pupil numbers: more South African children under the age of five now die before they 've even had a chance to enroll than ever before in the history of the country.
During apartheid, the statistics for the under-5 mortality rate averaged 55 per 100,000 of the population - which was already unacceptably high, especially by first-world standards.
However by 2006, twelve years after the end of apartheid, these statistics had risen to 69 child-deaths per 100,000 -- according to the United Nations' Children's fund.
The NASGB spoke out ahead of the start of the Western Cape’s academic school year on Wednesday, amidst reports that tne education minister was holding talks with Eastern Cape leaders to to try and untangle its 'shambolic' school system.
The NASGB's organising secretary Alan Liebenberg said poor parents were increasingly unable to pay the school fees for their children -- and that the government -- i.e. the country's rapidly shrinking taxpayer base -- 'must assume responsibility and pay fees for the poor families'.
The SA Democratic Teachers Union also called for government intervention in the 'shambolic educational system in the Eastern Cape.' "The Eastern Cape suffers from. a lack of financial planning, monitoring and accountability and the failure to fill critical teaching posts,' warned Sadtu president Thobile Ntola.
"At the highest levels of the department there are constant changes of personnel and organograms resulting in massive instability and lack of leadership,' Ntola warned.
"The Eastern Cape has not been stable politically. There have been issues since 1994 - new MECs constantly, seven directors of education suspended, over 10 heads of department, allegedly some politicians were involved in corruption [and] instability generally has affected the education department."
Ntola said a "no nonsense" approach was required to pull the department and education in the province out of its current quagmire, calling on education minister Naledi Pandor to investigate the possibility of implementing "Section 100" of the Constitution. This would enable the central government to take over the running of the province's educational system by the end of the month.
Pandor 's spokesman said that he was urgently meeting with Premier Mbulelo Sogoni and his education MEC to try and draw up a plan of action.
"The minister has highlighted the change of (political) leadership in the province. I don't know how many heads of department in particular they have had.' said spokesman Ngqengelele. "This is a matter of concern," Ngqengelele said. It's absolutely the worst performance for any province, he admitted - with only 30,494 pupils passing their matric exams in 2008.
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