Why private schools can stay open in South Africa – And what it means for matric exams

Private schools are not bound by the government’s recent closure of schools because they claim they can keep learners safe and desperately need the money from school fees.

This is according to the Department of Basic Education (DBE), which was responding to questions from MyBroadband regarding the recent closure of public schools due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Since the last time [schools were closed due to COVID-19], the situation of private schools has become worse. Some have closed down permanently, teachers retrenched, salaries cut, learners displaced,” said the DBE.

“Private schools say that they are not covered in the relief fund so they depend on fees. They have made a case that if another closure happens it could have a devastating impact on their sustainability.”

The DBE also noted that private schools have claimed to be able to meet safety requirements.

“For the most part, they indicated that they are able to meet the requirements for safety as their enrollment numbers are low,” the DBE said.

Speaking with EWN, The National Alliance of Independent Schools Associations (NAISA) secretary-general Ebrahim Ansur said private schools have been encouraged to make their own decisions.

“In most cases, every independent school has the discretion to act independently, so it takes decisions based on its own unique circumstances because no independent school is exactly identical in terms of context, population it serves, the location in which it is,” said Ansur.

“There is no blanket decision that covers all independent schools. Every independent school stakes a decision on its own unique circumstances.”

However, the alliance said that most private schools are continuing with their 2020 academic programme.

The Independent Schools Association of South Africa (ISASA) recently told eNCA that independent schools are equipped to manage the COVID-19 pandemic without needing to shut down.

“We can do social distancing, we can do the monitoring. We can do the screening. I suspect that is why the President closed public schools because not all of them can do that,” said ISASA executive director Lebogang Montjane.

Private school exams

While matric exams at public schools will now take place in 2021, there has been no confirmation regarding whether private school matric exams such as those written under the Independent Examination Board (IEB) will be postponed too.

Umalusi told MyBroadband that it is currently engaged in discussions with both public and private assessment bodies regarding the impact of COVID-19 on the 2020 school calendar.

“There is no doubt that the 2020 cohort of grade 12 learners is generally affected – albeit to varying degrees – by the ramifications of the pandemic across the education landscape (private and public),” said Umalusi.

Umalusi said that under normal circumstances, each assessment body follows its own examination timetable.

“Therefore, if private assessment bodies decide to administer their examinations within the current academic year, Umalusi will fulfil its legislative mandate by quality assuring the conduct, management, and administration of those national examinations,” said Umalusi.

The effect on university entrance

The DBE also highlighted that the Minister of Higher Education Blade Nzimande previously confirmed universities will adjust their calendars to align with the situation with the basic education sector.

“Some adjustment to the 2021 academic programme will be made which automatically covers the matter of matric learners completing this year,” said the DBE.

Nzimande said earlier this month that his department had been in discussions with the DBE to determine how the end of the school year will be treated.

“It is likely that the intake of first-year university students in 2021 will be later than usual,” said Nzimande.

“This will require a change in the normal academic year to ensure that the 2021 academic year finishes within the 2021 calendar year.”

Now read: South Africa’s COVID-19 recovery must start now – Ramaphosa

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Why private schools can stay open in South Africa – And what it means for matric exams