Education cuts squeeze parents’ finances, opens doors for private institutions to thrive

Private schools now have the opportunity to expand since the WCED’s budget cut from National Government. Picture: Supplied

Private schools now have the opportunity to expand since the WCED’s budget cut from National Government. Picture: Supplied

Published Jan 13, 2024


Cape Town - Private education and the resultant high cost of school fees could be the lot for thousands of parents as the Department of Basic Education announced major budget cuts, especially on infrastructure spend.

The Western Cape Education Department (WCED) has already announced a R248 million cut to its infrastructure budget, cutting back on its ability to build new schools and fix existing ones.

As government schools open next week for the start of the new school year, the annual pressure for places, could see many parents turning to private schools in a last ditch effort to get their child into a school.

WCED spokesperson Bronagh Hammond said despite the massive R790m budget slash, that impacted their infrastructure budget the most, they would still build 10 of the 21 schools planned.

But education activists and private and independent school bodies have warned that it would be impossible to expect the private sector to fill the gap left by the inability of the government to provide enough schools.

Lebogang Montjane, of the Independent Schools Association of Southern Africa (Isasa), said independent schooling was certainly expanding where there was a lack of public schooling and this was likely to continue.

“However, the independent sector is still very small compared to the public education system. Only 5.5% of learners and roughly 9% of schools are found in the independent sector.”

Curro, one the largest providers of private schools, has as of last year 73 047 learners on 78 campuses within 182 schools.

An example of the state’s failure to provide quality education is a new school that will open next week in Claremont which seeks to provide extra lessons in subjects where performance has been low.

Edify, a specialised education institute, already has five of its centres operating in Johannesburg and plans to expand to the Western Cape during 2024.

The “first-of-its-kind” extra-lesson school in Cape Town offers extension classes in maths, physical science and Afrikaans first additional language, for pre-schoolers right through to matric.

Edify’s extra lessons are aimed at learners at all levels. Many of their learners are in the top 1% of South Africa’s academic achievers and Edify helps them maintain their As.

Education activist Hendrick Makaneta pointed out that the failure to build new public schools could also lead to a private-public partnership.

“Where the government is lacking, private companies can step in. This should be seen as an opportunity for the government to talk with the private sector so that more schools can be built – it’s the perfect setting for a partnership,” he said.

Education activist Hendrick Makaneta, says this is a perfect opportunity for a public-private collaboration. l SUPPLIED

Isasa said these partnerships already exist.

“Section 21 (former Model C) public schools only exist in the form they do because of significant private income over and above what the state provides. Similarly, low-fee independent schools can receive subsidies from the state, which allows them to offset a portion of their costs and keep their tuition fees as affordable as possible.

“Maintaining these arrangements is the difficulty, as there is an increasing trend for the benefits to be removed or dramatically reduced in certain provinces,” it said.

Isasa said the increase in the building of new private schools did not necessarily mean an increase in fees for parents.

“It depends on the tuition fees of the independent school versus the tuition fees of the public school that the learner may otherwise have attended.

“If the public school would have been a relatively well-resourced school, then a low- to mid-fee independent school may well have a lower cost to parents.”

Educators Union of South Africa (Eusa) chairperson André de Bruyn, called on the government to use ex-model C schools to accommodate the downscaling in the building of schools.

“The budget cuts will lead to many things, leaving the education sector with tremendous challenges of employment and socio-economic factors. It has a domino effect.

“The fact that private schooling, for example, the likes of Curro, will now become increasingly attractive for parents will mean that we will potentially lose brilliant teachers at our public schools to join the ranks of the private schools,” he said.

Chairperson of EUSA Andre de Bruyn, says government should do more. l SUPPLIED

Makaneta said while private education institutions usually “sell education” because of high fees, it can still be a benefit.

“My suggestion would be to charge reasonable prices, especially for those who cannot afford but want to enrol their kids into private schools.

“Obviously a price drop will mean that these schools won’t be built the same as those where you pay up to R4 000 a month, but at least the school will be able to provide learning. It might also not have the same resources, but at least the right to education will be fulfilled,” he said.

De Bruyn said that morale within the whole education sphere should also be looked at.

“On average 19 000 learners come to the Western Cape per year and they must be accommodated.

“Eusa still maintains that the spaces in ex-model C schools should be used to lessen the load of the overcrowded public school system.

“It also maintains that the national government is continuing the legacy of gutter education and increasing the divides between the affluent and poorer schools.

“National government should increase the budget, and see that learners get a quality education in all spheres. That should be the goal, but the reality is that overcrowding, overworked and run-down teachers, and lack of maintenance, building of schools and teaching posts will be the order of the day.

“That is as a result of the national government not serving its people at grass-roots level,” he said.

Learners are expected to return to school on Wednesday.

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