Picture: Henk Kruger/African News Agency (ANA)
Picture: Henk Kruger/African News Agency (ANA)

Covid-19 precautions are adding to the back-to-school bill for parents

By Asanda Sokanyile Time of article published Jan 23, 2021

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Cape Town - With the re-opening of schools pushed back by two weeks, some parents feel the delay has afforded them an opportunity to secure what was lacking in their children’s back to school demands.

The start of the year is usually marked by parents scrambling to find the last of the stationery list requirements while trying to recover from the Christmas splurge which was kicked off by Black Friday just a month before.

Some parents are concerned about the heavy burden in cost of stationery in the midst of job losses and salary cuts as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic. This while the Competition Commission has strived to curb any anti-competitive behaviour among schools and ensuring fair pricing of school uniforms.

Now the commission has broadened their scope to include face-masks, hand sanitizers, technological gadgets for e-learning purposes and other items as 23 schools were reported for going against the Basic Education Department’s Circular on the Procurement of School Uniform and other Learning-Related Goods and Services.

The commission’s spokesperson, Siyabulela Makunga, said there are currently 10 active cases from the Western Cape, Kwa-Zulu Natal, Free State and Gauteng, with Gauteng accounting for most of the cases.

Makunga could not identify the 10 schools involved as the matter has not been “referred as a case for prosecution” as yet.

In response to the claims, the Department of Basic Education and the commission have jointly published an updated Circular on the Procurement of School Uniform and other Learning-Related Goods and Services, that seeks to provide school and other relevant stakeholders with guidance on best practices relating to all procurement undertaken by schools.

“In the era of Covid-19, the commission received complaints related to requirements by schools for learners to purchase school-branded or brand-specific Covid-19-related items - including face-masks, hand sanitizers, technological gadgets for e-learning purposes and other items. It is important that schools understand that the same principles that are set out to ensure pro-competitive procurement applies equally to the procurement of all other learning-related goods such as textbooks, stationery, etc,” Makunga said.

Lydia Michaels is anxious about sending her daughter to high school, saying the cost of high school and has put a strain on but she does all she can to ensure that her “little girl gets all she needs to make her learning experience is as smooth as possible”.

Michaels is a single mother raising two children.

“Education is one of the most important things to me, whatever the cost, whatever the sacrifice my children know, if it is for their education I will do it. If her school says we must get branded masks then so be it, I will have to make a plan. I believe in uniformity anyway, but as for the rest I think it would just be a waste of money that we as parents may not have,” she said

Vuyani Blom’s son is a Grade 10 pupil, but does not share Michaels’ sentiments and believes that: “a mask is a mask and it should not matter what the mask looks like. I agree that children should at least wear the same colour mask but we should not be forced to buy branded masks just because schools want to make an extra buck. My son’s school has not mentioned anything about it though but if they were to inform us of such, I would oppose it,” he said.

The National South African Principal Association’s (Sapa) national general secretary, Linda Shezi, said the association has not been made aware of the individual cases but condones any act which goes against the guidelines published by the DBE.

“We are however aware of Circular No 11 of 2020 on the procurement of school uniform and other learning-related goods and services, sent to school governing bodies and principals.

“Sapa does not condone non-compliance with any legislation and policy. We encourage the EMGD (education management and governance) in provinces to work with governing bodies and principals in as far as running webinars that deal with matters of legislation,” he said.

Equal Education Law Centre’s senior attorney Tarryn Cooper-Bell said the organisation concurs with schools requiring branded masks in their school uniforms. “No child may be refused admission because of an inability to obtain and wear the school uniform. That being said - a mere refusal can constitute a disciplinary offence. Schools need to ensure that the price of the relevant branded PPE is not prohibitively expensive, and where families cannot afford it, the SGB must assist in that regard,” she said.

Weekend Argus

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