Parents face tough school choices as pricing, wellness and social readiness come into effect

First day at School for Umthawelanga primary school learners in Khayelitsha. Photographer Ayanda Ndamane African News Agency (ANA).

First day at School for Umthawelanga primary school learners in Khayelitsha. Photographer Ayanda Ndamane African News Agency (ANA).

Published Jan 21, 2023


Johannesburg - Economists warn that more pupils at private schools in South Africa could drop out and return to former Model C schools in 2023 as parents’ salaries struggle to match high levels of inflation and a higher costs of living.

Parents now also have to contend with shrinking school budgets, more value for children in their health and wellness, as well as preparedness to take the future Generation Ys to the next frontier of their formal development.

The Independent Schools Association of Southern Africa’s (Isasa) executive director, Lebogang Montjane, said that since 1994, private schools had grown exponentially but there had been a slow-down in in-takes.

“Some schools have closed. Some never reopened. Enrolments have definitely plateaued. We cannot predict the future but it is where we are,” he said.

Nutrition and Health manager at Nestlé, East and Southern Africa, Anne-Marie De Beer, said parents are in for a rough ride and the start of the academic year would present more challenges.

“Parents already sacrifice so much to pay school fees but there is a way you can make school fees work for you. Many schools still offer nutrition programmes, but parents can help schools by making sure that what they pack in the children’s lunch boxes go towards allowing the children to perform optimally,” she said.

De Beer cautioned parents to be vigilant about what their children ate at school and at home.

“Children need energy to play and learn. I urge parents to pack seasonal fruit and vegetables. Tomatoes, for example, can be sliced in wedges and don’t have to go on the bread. That way, sandwiches are not soggy. Planning meals and getting the children involved can be a fun activity for the whole family. There are also things like savoury muffins and left-over supper that can be spruced up and turned into nutritional lunches. I also highly recommend Nestle Nespray powder milk and Milo for kids. The children can just add water and they will have a nutritional drink to get them through their days and keep them focused. If you start well, you will end well,” she said.

De Beer also urged parents to limit young children from drinking energy drinks and flavoured milk. She said they were high in sugar and contained excessive amounts of caffeine.

“Children don’t need that kind of energy. Rather give them water. Water is the conductor of impulses in the brain, and being well hydrated helps them to concentrate and learn better. Fresh fruit is also better than fruit juice. You can even mix water with your child’s juice. But it’s all in the planning, and discipline for the whole family is vital. I know it’s easier said than done, but try not to rush in the morning. It just messes up your whole day. Planning creates security for children, and it empowers them for the rest of their lives,” she said.

De Beer encouraged parents and children to start their own vegetable garden so there was always a steady supply of fresh vegetables.

“Also, never underestimate the value that foods like lentils, chickpeas, beans and nuts can have for your growing child,” she said.

Educational psychologist and lecturer at Stellenbosch University, Dr Lynne Damons, said one was witnessing the challenges parents are experiencing in trying to move their children from private to Model C Schools.

“While parents are primarily responsible for getting children to school every day, schools and their communities have a role to play in recognising and addressing the barriers and challenges that affect school attendance by individuals and groups of learners. Socio-economic changes in the family dynamics often mean that parents have not been able to apply for placement in different schools earlier and this often results in learners not being able to receive placement in schools close to or in their own communities,” she said.

And while parents are looking for schools with lower fees, other factors such as fees, uniforms, books or technology, extra-mural activities and the cost of safe and accessible transport often exacerbate the economic challenges related to education. In addition to these expectations, the use of public transport means students going to schools far from their communities may result in them arriving late. Using public transport also increases vulnerability to crime and violence.

“In addition, school management and educators may be insensitive in how they manage these learners’ experiences, and this may then result in learners feeling increasingly socially marginalised, and over time increasingly disengaging from school and society. When marginalised youth venture to the fringes of society, the likelihood increases that they will link up with other disengaged youth and form social clusters or gangs. So, changing schools at various developmental stages requires parents, carers and educators to remain sensitive and to be supportive of learners who are changing schools,” she said.

Damons agreed with De Beer that providing balanced nutrition is also becoming increasingly difficult.

“Support community gardens. Nutrition is important in the developmental stage of school-going children and they need good nutrition if they are going to succeed. With the increasing economic challenges in the country, and more and more households having less money, one sees the increasing number of children needing to be fed through these school programmes or community-based feeding schemes. The school feeding scheme aims to foster better quality education by enhancing children’s active learning capacity and concentration, alleviating short-term hunger, promoting general wellbeing of learners, providing an incentive for children to attend school regularly and punctually, and addressing certain micro-nutrient deficiencies,” she added.

“New learners to schools may be more reluctant to attend feeding schemes, and it would therefore be important for parents and educators to consider the ways in which they can incorporate learners to become involved in the provision of creative and interesting meals,” Damons said.

The experts also warn that pupils’ mental health is said to suffer as parents simply don’t have money for mental health services. Concerns about financial hardship and environmental changes at home can negatively influence the psycho-social wellness of all family members.

“One of the best things you can do to keep your child mentally healthy is to take care of your own mental health. Not only will you be modelling the habits that improve mental health, but you'll also be creating a healthier environment for your child,” she said.

Visit for more information, tips, tricks and recipe ideas to help you set your children up for good nutrition and lifelong benefits.

The Saturday Star