NYAKALLO TEFU and CHARLES MOLELE
THE Congress of South African Students (COSAS) on Monday threatened to shut down all private schools across the country in a desperate attempt to address the deep inequalities in education caused by apartheid-era education policies and spending practices.
This follows government’s announcement last week that all public schools would be closed for four weeks with the exceptions of some grades.
The recess is intended to reduce the rate of COVID-19 infections, currently standing at 453 000 confirmed cases and 7 067 deaths.
“We are going to lock all the gates of private schools with our own padlocks this week because they are not willing to close as requested by all South Africans,” said COSAS provincial secretary Sibabalo Mdingi.
Mdingi said COSAS is of the opinion that the country’s education system should seek to create a fair and equitable opportunity for every child, whether they attend private or public schools.
“Our Programme of Action to shut down private schools is to highlight the deeper inequalities in the country’s education system. We demand equal education and nothing else. Private schools are going to write similar exam papers to public schools – whether they have registered under National Senior Certificate or IEB. We can’t have two education systems in one country.”
The country’s five teacher unions (SADTU, NAPTOSA, SAOU, NATU, PEU), together with some school governing body associations (SGBs), are in support of calls to shut down private schools.
SADTU’s spokesperson Nomusa Cembi said government’s decision to halt public schooling for a month while allowing private schools to stay open will see the inequality gap widen,
“When president [Cyril] Ramaphosa announced the closure of schools were worried why only public schools because we believe that this will further exacerbate the gap between public and private schools. We do not want a situation where we have two education systems – one for public and one for the private schools,” said Cembi.
“We want to see all schools closing down as it happened at the beginning of the national lockdown in March when all schools were instructed to close. We want to see one education system.”
NATU’s president Allen Thompson said the ‘unequal’ closure of schools will only widen the gap between the poor and rich schools.
“That is very unfortunate. The private schools are part of the South African education system. We believe that they are being controlled by one Minister and as a result they deserve to be treated in the same way,” said Thompson.
NAPTOSA’s president Basil Manuel said Ramaphosa’s decision to close all public schools and leave out private schools was a ‘great injustice’.
“We believe that it’s a great pity that we didn’t seize upon the opportunity to solidify the view in the minds of the public that we have one education system,” said Manuel.
This week, Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga is expected to meet with MECs between Monday and Thursday to iron out issues around independent schools.
The independent schools claim that their programme runs differently from that of private schools, which is why they were not included in the current closures by Government.
Mandla Mthembu, chairperson of the National Alliance of Independent Schools Association (NAISA), said the middle and low fee independent schools have had to cut teachers’ salaries as well as retrench staff at a time when teachers are more needed than ever.
“This is not the case for public school teachers who continue to enjoy the full benefits whether at work or not,” said Mthembu.
“Unfortunately, it is not the case for independent schools teachers who have had to come face to face with unemployment and increasing the unemployment /UIF line in our country.”
Mthembu said that unlike public school teachers, both independent school teachers and SGB teachers are paid from school fees.
He said many parents stopped paying fees as soon as schools closed, placing independent schools in a precarious position.
School fee payments are currently at an average of between 25%, depending on the schools’ quintile category, said Mthembu.
Experts say the widening gap between private and Government schools is of great concern.
Around 60% of South African learners attending public schools attend no-fee schools, according to a study by Section 27.
Some of these schools charge less than R1 000 a year, while others charge more than R30 000 per year.
The money can be used to hire additional teachers, top up teacher salaries, and to offer extra-curricular arts and sports programmes and a greater array of subject choices.
Independent schools, on the other hand, charge high tuition fees, with some annual fees exceeding 20 times the average amount that provinces spend on each public school learner each year.
Independent schools are free to charge whatever school fees they wish, though charging school fees above certain thresholds may make them ineligible for state subsidies.
Independent schools are also free to set their own classroom sizes and school capacity without regard for the educational needs of the province.
(Compiled by Inside Education staff)