The number of private and independent schools facing possible closure seems to be growing as there is no sign the coronavirus is abating. The mandatory lockdown regulations have severely impacted the ability of most parents to honour their monthly fee payment which is the primary source of these schools to deliver education. Most parents have lost their jobs while others had their salary halved due to the poor performing economy.
As far back as May the Alliance of Independent Schools Association (NAISA), described the situation as “dire” saying the sector has been severely hit by the lockdown protocols. Although arrangements were made to mitigate the impact of the virus such as offering fee discounts ranging from 10% to 15% with parents who were falling behind, the association said this was a temporary relief and cannot be sustainable particularly if the situation does not improve any time soon.
Women in Science Africa spoke with the Independent Schools Association of Southern Africa (ISASA to find out how their member schools have been impacted and how they are coping with the situation. ISASA caters over 850 member schools across a broad range of socio-economic and cultural communities.
The association confirmed that some schools are facing financial troubles even though it has no access to financial records of individual schools. It also said some may close if the situation persists.
The outfit’s chief executive officer, Lebogang Montjane, said even though they have not yet collected the data across all member schools, there is no doubt that no organisation in the country has been left untouched by the devastating effects of the pandemic.
“We do expect to see an on-going cascading effect, whereby parents opt to seek places for their children in more affordable schools within the independent sector or potentially seek public school placements,” said Montjane.
Asked how bad the situation is, Montjane said several schools may have to close and that they anticipate that most schools in the sector will experience some of financial difficulty. This will vary depending on the school, he added. He said they have encouraged their “member schools to try to retain pupils by offering payment plans where possible to assist parents who may in a temporary difficult due to a change in financial circumstances occasioned by the effect of the pandemic”.
Montjane said they have also spoken with the provincial education departments to continue paying subsidies to eligible low-fee independent schools as many of these depend on these payments to operate. He said should schools close pupils would have to be accommodated by government schools in the area.
The National School of the Arts made headlines recently when it reported that its finances are fast depleting and appealed for outside financial assistance. Gauteng department of education has since stepped in and made a commitment to contribute financially.
Montjane said paying subsidies low-fee schools is less costly than enrolling these pupils in public schools. However, he said higher fee independent schools may survive as they have deep financial pockets. “Higher fee independent schools generally hold reserves which we anticipate that they will be utilising for circumstances such as this,” he said.
He said they are also encouraging parents who will no longer be able to pay fees at a particular level for the foreseeable future, to re-evaluate urgently and seek a school they can afford.