Big shift in schooling in South Africa

 ·8 Aug 2022

Online schools had their fair share of critics among South Africans even prior to the pandemic – a perception that has seemingly changed drastically amid a raft of new affordable options including Curro and UCT Online High School.

Has the momentum for online schooling as a long-term option been maintained post the pandemic?

An analysis of the enrolment data from Teneo Online School claims that learners have switched for the long-term and plan to finish their school experience online. The ‘real school online’ has grown by 10,488% in over five years, from 85 learners when it was founded in 2018 to 9,000 learners currently.

“The data clearly indicates that both parents and learners who initially were not convinced merely needed to see it to believe it. Now that they have seen how convenient yet brilliant quality online school is, they are more open to considering it,” said John Shaw, CEO of Teneo Online School.

A majority (94%) of the sample indicated that online school is better value for money in comparison with traditional, brick-and-mortar schools. For example, those who wish to do an international curriculum, such as Independent Examinations Board (IEB), often need to fork out more money for a private school.

“There is also no need to spend money on school uniforms or transport costs – if you have access to a digital device and high-speed internet, you are good to go,” said Shaw.

Teneo operates on a mostly synchronous (live) basis where learners are expected to be live in class in accordance with their timetables – just as they would at a physical school.

However, there are students who benefit from using the asynchronous (recorded) model where they learn using pre-recorded lessons and at their own pace – a great option for those pursuing other interests in the daytime, such as aspiring professional sportsmen.

UCT partnered with the Valenture Institute to launch the UCT Online High School, with admissions opening in July 2021, and classes commencing in January 2022, with in excess of 4,000 students, and fees prices from around R2,095 per month.

Similarly, Curro launched an online-only offering during the back end of the pandemic, attracting in excess of 600 pupils within the first few months of launch and with fees ranging between R3,920 – R4,500 per month.

Homeschooling group Impaq also launched an online school for all grade 7 to 11 learners, commencing in 2022, and expanding to more grades in 2023.

Corporates have also shown eagerness to offer online learning facilities. At the end of October, mobile operator MTN launched its online school, offering a digital curriculum for grades R-12.

The online school, endorsed by the Department of Basic Education, offers additional features like video lessons, assessments and extra-tuition lessons for grade 10 to 12 learners.

It will also focus on areas such as financial skills, entrepreneurship, arts and culture, and career guidance content, with particular attention on critical careers where there are skills shortages in South Africa.

The portal includes an introduction to the early childhood development curriculum and African storytelling, with over 2,000 stories, to equip children with good reading skills and improve confidence, enabling them to learn and read independently.

Ongoing shift 

In South Africa, school closures were announced in March 2020, interrupting the learning of almost 17 million learners from pre-school to secondary school. Close to 2.3 million students enrolled in post-school education and training institutions were affected by the implementation of the strict lockdown rules.

New educational policies and regulations, including the adjustment of the academic timetable, new teaching programmes, mode of delivery, a catch-up of the curriculum, health and safety measures as well as financial relief packages were designed for the education sector.

However, data from Statistics South Africa showed that only 11.7% of schools offered remote learning options nationally. Most schools offered rotational options instead of remote learning, and the urban-rural divide was prominent, as twice as many individuals were given the option of remote learning in urban areas compared to rural areas.

An assessment of households’ readiness for remote learning in 2020 revealed a disparity in access to various resources necessary to participate in remote learning. Most households did not have digital assets such as laptops and tablets at home that would allow learners to learn remotely using digital tools.

While cellphone ownership was high (91.3%) in 2020 among all households with children aged 5–24, computer ownership has remained relatively low (24.7%). Furthermore, seven out of ten (70.5%) children attending Grade 7 did not own mobile phones.

In 2020, close to 7% of households with individuals aged 5–24 had access to the internet at home while most households accessed the internet via smartphones (66.8%).

The workplace and the use of public wifi facilities were the other preferred modes of access to the internet by households with individuals aged 5–24 (15.6 and 13.1% respectively).

In February, basic education minister Angie Motshekga said that the Department of Basic Education is developed a draft framework for the establishment of online private and public schools.

“The framework has been shared with provincial education departments for input and comments before it can be distributed to other stakeholders.”

Read: A look at the new R140 million school built in South Africa – which includes 32 ‘smart classrooms’

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