Private schools hit hard by the Covid-19 lockdown

An empty school classroom.

Private schools receive no government funding and are therefore solely reliant on parents paying fees.

Private schools in South Africa are battling their own financial crisis as a huge number of parents struggle to keep up with fee payments due to the economic impact of the Covid-19 lockdown as a result of Covid-19.

According to the National Independent Schools Association (Naisa), 80% of parents are struggling to pay private school fees.

Private schools receive no government funding and are therefore solely reliant on parents paying fees which amount to thousands of rands more every month than state schooling.

Private school tuition fees must pay for all operational costs such as salaries, infrastructure and maintenance and all support programmes.

Naisa secretary-general Ebrahim Ansur said the situation was dire as 90% of the income of independent or private schools came from school fees. Naisa said the coronavirus lockdown in the country has had a severe negative impact on the finances of independent schools.

When a parent loses a job or gets a salary cut, they cannot afford to pay school fees for private schooling, leaving both private school educators and the school itself vulnerable.

The association says this has resulted in many teachers losing their jobs and some schools even facing the prospect of closure.

The Basic Education Department has responded by saying that parents have the option of sending their children to public schools or homeschooling them.

However, the department’s spokesperson Elijah Mhlanga has cautioned struggling parents that they may not be able to pick and choose alternative government schools as most schools are not operating at full capacity and are unlikely to be able to accommodate extra numbers at this stage of the school year.

He added that the schools are generally open to learners at any time of the year unless classes were full.

A recent report highlighted the case of one Cape Town parent who in desperation wrote to President Cyril Ramaphosa asking him to change the laws governing private schools.

The parent said due to the lockdown his business was going through a tough time and his three children had been expelled from private school due to non-payment of fees.

He added that school fee payments for the children were in arrears by more than R300 000.

Naisa president Mandla Mthembu said: “We feel for the parents out there who have lost jobs, had their income slashed and have had salary cuts. We understand that but on the other hand, schools rely on school fees to function.”