The National Association of School Governing Bodies says they have seen an increase in the number of children moving from private schools into no fee-paying government schools over the last two years. This can be attributed to the economic downturn and the rise in unemployment due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The association’s General Secretary, Matakanye Matakanya, says they have called on the Department of Basic Education to intervene because no-fee schools are becoming overcrowded.
Matakanya says one can see that the department is struggling to ensure that every child gets a space in the schooling system due to overcrowding. This, he says has been made worse by children moving away from fee-paying independent schools to public schools.
“If the parents are no more paying, it means you can’t pay the teachers, the project that you have, you have to stop. But another solution could be then to take their children back to no fees schools and space becomes limited when they take away from those schools and to these schools and that is why we are saying some of the schools that are close must be opened, so that when parents take their children away from fee-paying schools then there is enough space in the schools.”
National General Secretary of the South African Principal’s Association Linda Shezi says people can longer afford fees.
“Most schools are even starting to battle to even get over 50% collection rate, which means that as schools are starting to battle to get money in for the 50% of parents, mind you, you still have in the schools those parents that have legitimate exemptions not to pay for various reasons. So, that 50% or whatever it is collection rate is not based on your 100% enrolment. And so the situation gets worse with people not being able to afford an education at schools under the current climate.”
Parents’ attitudes towards fees
Matakanya says another challenge they face is that many parents – even prior to the COVID-19 crisis – do not view fees as a high-priority expenditure. They are instead prioritizing mortgages, rent, car finance, store cards and even payday -loans, over school fees.
Matakanya says they do not have a figure of how much school fees are owed by parents from the 27 000 schools in the country.
“It is very, very serious because we did not engage the provinces, we engaged the minister when we debated and it started last year and I don’t have the scientific figures now. Particularly schools that had hired more teachers and those teachers had been hired by the school governing bodies, then we asked the department to start assisting those schools. Parents are unable to pay because most of them lost employment. The problem still- continues because the pandemic is still with us.”
Shezi says school fees should be considered a high-priority expenditure. He says the culture of fees non -payment has been made worse by COVID- 19, and the rotation of children attending school.
“School fees are a statutory requirement and this is something we need as schools to educate our parent population about. Fees have got to be a priority expenditure in a household, sometimes it’s disheartening to see parents claim an inability to pay when on their expenditure list school is the last thing they will spend their money on. And the culture of paying school fees as part of your priority is something the Department of Education as a collective we need to keep educating our parents about.”
Inequalities in education system
The National Association of School Governing Bodies says COVID-19 exposed the department to the inequalities in the education system. He says children sometimes fall out of the system if parents cannot afford transport fees- even if the schooling is free in some cases.
“Once the parents are laid off, children fail to attend classes.”
The Principal’s Association says it has tabled the issue of school fees with the Department of Education and hopes a solution will be found soon.