OMBOTO - Early dropout is prevalent among lower primary school pupil in the Nehale Lya Mpingana Constituency, especially learners advancing to Grades 5 and 6.
The exact number is unknown but is believed to be high. This is due to long distances to schools offering upper primary education. Thus, many learners tend to stay away after completing Grade 3 or 4. The constituency is vast and has a bad terrain coupled with no telecommunication networks and no road infrastructures. Thus, the onus is on parents to seek placements for their children at nearby schools, which on average are 20 kilometres away. Pupils the majority below 10- years, are left careless or sometimes with strangers as most of these rural schools do not have hostels and only a few have community shelters. Space is not always guaranteed.
Another option the parents have is to send the kids to relatives and families in other areas where schools are nearer. Learners at Omboto Primary School situated in Nehale Lya Mpingana are some of the most affected, as the school only offers up to Grade 3, although it has a classroom block with a Grade 4. These were some of the issues raised by parents at Omboto, who appealed to the Ministry of Education, Arts and Culture to increase the curriculum to accommodate Grade 4.
“The situation is very bad as our children taken far away at a very young age where they are unable to take care of themselves. Mostly, they are left alone at schools without anyone taking care of them. They have to fend for themselves to make something to eat. They are just on their own,” Tuuyoleni Fredrick, a parent stressed.
“It is not every parent who is lucky to have relatives that can accept to live with their children, and when that does not work, the parent has no choice but to enrol the learners at the nearest school although far from home. It is like the kids are deserted,” she added. Fredrick said this discourage to stay in school. “Once they come for weekend, they would not want to go back. They will entirely refuse. That could ruin their future. Therefore, I am appealing to the ministry to increase the curriculum, at least by the time they leave Grade 4, they might be a bit grown up,” she appealed.
The Circuit Inspector for Onkumbula, Herman Angula, said the learners’ population is low, thus cannot justify an additional grade. Currently there are 41 learners at the school, with Grade 2 and 3 grouped in one class. Teacher learner ratio for primary is 1:35, and 1:30 for secondary level. There is only two staff members, a teacher and a volunteer. In contrast, Fredrick said the area has many children to sustain the school but the problem is with children from the San community who refuses to attend school or drop out halfway. “We have many of these schools ending in Grade 3 or 4, and they are in fact regarded as uneconomical schools, because of the low population. Thus, its sustainability is volatile. Hence, we are not keen of establishing permanent structures as it can be a waste of resources when the population declines to such an extent that the school can close down,” stressed Angula. Omboto was supposed to close but did not because somehow they got permanent structure, although something unusual. “If we close it, where will all these kids go? They can’t stay without education,” reasoned Angula.
It was normal in the region for learners to attend schools faraway, hence parents are encouraged to get involved in the construction of more community hostels to curb the situation where pupils are left without care.