OPINION | Since schools are closed, should school fees be waived?
This is a stressful time for everyone – parents, pupils and teachers alike – and we're all doing our best to adapt and survive.
Is the payment of school fees up for debate? (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 and promises were made by the South African government to make financial support available to small businesses and employers affected by the Covid-19 pandemic, the reality is that many South African households are still wondering where their next pay cheque will come from.

Is the payment of school fees 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 on Facebook and Twitter that, for some, the payment of school fees is currently up for debate.

In March, President Cyril Ramaphosa announcement that the country would go into a 21-day lockdown, but schools had closed as much as a week before lockdown. Since then, schools began a staged reopening, with grades 7 and 12 returning first.

Then Ramaphosa announced in late July that public schools would be "taking a break" – one week for Grade 12, two weeks for Grade 7 and four weeks for everyone else.

Right now the 2020 school year is in peril, and schools await the Department of Basic Education's instructions on an extended academic year.

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 amid 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 teacher and whether they are still getting "value for money".

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

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 teacher 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 PowerPoints 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."

Stephen Price, principal of Bergvliet High School in Cape Town, prefers to use the term "distance learning", as it incorporates methods that don't necessarily involve the use of technology and therefore includes pupils with no access to the internet.

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

'I encourage parents to continue to pay school fees'

Brian Schreuder, head of the Western Cape Education Department, urged parents to pay fees, and reminded them 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 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, pupils and teachers alike – and we're all doing our best to adapt and survive.

It's clear teachers have wasted no time in adapting to this new environment to ensure education continues.

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

How do you feel about the continued payment of school fees? Has your school made allowances for distance learning or reduced fees? Let us know.

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