OPINION: 'Since schools are closed, should school fees be waived?'
This is a stressful time for everyone, parents, learners and educators alike and we’re all doing our best to adapt and survive.
"The primary caregiver feels entitled to the money, misappropriates the money..." (iStock)
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Since the call for lockdown went out, countless businesses have had to close, some permanently, and many self-employed South Africans find themselves without a source of income.

While plans are afoot and promises have been made by the South African government to make financial support available to small business and employers affected by the Covid-19 pandemic, the reality is that many South African households are wondering where their next paycheck will be coming from. 

The payment of school fees is currently up for debate

Those affected are searching for advice about how to make ends meet and it is evident from some of the lengthy conversation threads found on Facebook and Twitter, that, for some, the payment of school fees is currently up for debate.

Following President Ramaphosa’s announcement that the country would go into a 21-day lockdown recently, some schools closed as much as a week earlier than scheduled for the March holidays.

In a media release issued on the 25th of March, Brian Schreuder, head of the Western Cape Education Department informed parents that since the date for schools to be reopened was uncertain, “all eventualities” were being planned for, including teaching via the web, radio, and television, and for catch-up classes when schools reopened.

Parents are panicking

For so many of us, being asked to work from home, while simultaneously ensuring our children are entertained, educated, and remain emotionally and mentally stable amidst this global crisis feels like an impossibility.

Couple this with the uncertainty of the economic climate, and it’s understandable that parents are panicking. 

There are three main sentiments coming through in these online conversations: Some parents argue that since schools are closed, school fees should be waived, or at least discounted.

Others wonder just how much work has gone into the videos and worksheets uploaded by their child’s educator and whether they are still getting “value for money”.

Many simply cannot afford to buy groceries right now, let alone pay school fees.

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Online education vs homeschooling

A common misconception in these threads is that online education equates to homeschooling.

The two are, in fact, very different. Homeschooling involves a parent or caregiver choosing a curriculum and facilitating and supervising their child’s progress.

A high school educator based in Johannesburg unpacks how online education, or “e-learning” is different:

“Each teacher always has their own style, and e-learning is no different. While some teachers put notes and Power Points together, I'm making YouTube videos and making them available for when the kids get stuck and need help. I, for example, do a live stream maybe twice a week with my senior classes for Q&A, but if a student doesn't have access to WiFi, then they email me directly and I help them that way.” 

Principal of Bergvliet High School in Cape Town, Stephen Price, prefers to use the term “distance learning”, as it incorporates methods that don’t necessarily involve the use of technology and therefore includes learners with no access to the internet.

His school’s plan for reaching these learners include either posting or sending work schemes via WhatsApp and signing each learner up to dedicated WhatsApp groups so that they can communicate with their classmates and teachers.

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'I encourage parents to continue to pay school fees'

Schreuder’s media statement reminds parents of the fee exemption system, the use of which will enable schools to apply for fee compensation:

“I encourage parents to continue to pay school fees, as many teachers employed by of our governing bodies rely on the payment of these fees for their salaries.

We are aware that many families will suffer income losses during this period and remind them that there is an option to apply for fee exemption when schools return.” 

This is a stressful time for everyone, parents, learners and educators alike and we’re all doing our best to adapt and survive.

It’s clear that educators have wasted no time in adapting to this new environment to ensure that education continues.

The continued payment of school fees by those who can afford it, therefore, should be a no-brainer.

The views expressed don't necessarily reflect that of Parent24 or Media24. 

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