Catholic schools are fighting for their own survival
Catholic schools are fighting for their own survival

Catholic Schools shutting down due to financial difficulties

By Tamara Mafilika Time of article published May 13, 2021

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Private and Catholic schools across the world are struggling to keep their doors open. The global pandemic has left many families unable to pay school fees. In the US alone, more than 209 of the country’s nearly 6 000 Catholic schools have closed over the past year.

Catholic Independent Schools are privately owned and operated by a Board of Governors on behalf of the owner, which may be a diocese, a religious congregation or a trust.

Independent schools must meet the norms and standards that the State expects of all schools and must comply with specific requirements of each Provincial Education Department. Catholic schools form a small fraction of the total number of schools in South Africa, yet, their influence is both remarkable and enduring.

Despite their success, Catholic schools here and in the United States are confronted with many financial challenges, heightened by the impact of Covid-19.

According to Mark Potterton, principal of Sacred Heart College, in Observatory: “Several Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of Johannesburg are repeatedly unable to pay their teachers because of delays in receiving their government subsidy. One recent Church document noted that government cuts place a heavy financial burden on families who choose to send their children to Catholic schools and constitute a serious threat to the survival of the schools themselves.”

Such financial strain is impacting on the recruitment and retention of teachers and it is also resulting in the exclusion of those who cannot afford to pay.

“A serious concern is that this may lead to selection according to means which deprives the Catholic school of one of its distinguishing features of being a school for all. The reality we find ourselves in South Africa is that there is low economic growth and high unemployment levels.

“Families are experiencing increased financial pressure, exacerbated now by Covid-19, and some parents have been forced to find more affordable schools. Education economists argue that the deepening economic pressure will further test parents’ ability to afford more expensive private education”, adds Potterton.

Across the Atlantic, is another story altogether. According to the Wall Street Journal, Catholic schools across the country are struggling to keep the doors open, after a pandemic year that left many families unable to pay tuition and the church without extra funds to cover the difference.

Catholic school enrolment fell 6.4% at the start of this school year, the largest single year decline since the NCEA began tracking such data in the 1970s. While enrolment has been falling for decades, the pandemic has added to the challenges schools are already facing, Catholic education leaders said.

Inequality within the Catholic school’s network continues to be a concern, but the sharing of resources has failed to materialise because most Catholic schools are fighting for their own survival and fear the changes that a different model would bring, concludes Potterton.

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