The costs of schooling in South Africa in 2021 – and hidden fees to look out for

 ·8 Feb 2021

As the Covid-19 pandemic enters its second year, parents may find themselves having to fork out more for their children’s schooling than they did pre-Covid-19, says André Wentzel, solutions manager at Sanlam.

Wentzel said that to see a child through their schooling career – which includes primary, secondary, and tertiary schooling – parents are looking at upwards of R1 million in 2021 terms.

He said that historically education costs have increased by 2 – 3% above general inflation meaning that, over time, they’ve become a larger proportion of a household’s budget.

He added that this considers fees for:

  • Public school: R30,000 – R60,000 per year;
  • Private school: R100,000 – R200,000 per year;
  • A typical degree: R30,000 – R75,000 per year, or up to R300,000 for a four-year degree.

Besides preparing for monthly tuition fees, parents need to be prepared for the hidden costs brought about by the pandemic, said Wentzel.


“In 2020 many parents found themselves having to purchase online equipment such as laptops and other digital devices when schools were closed as a result of Covid-19, to ensure continuous learning via online platforms,” said Wentzel.

“Many private schools have reverted to online learning at the start of 2021 as a result of the 2-week reopening delay.

Wentzel said parents need to consider making provision for the costs of devices should schools’ reopening be delayed even further, forcing more schools to revert to online learning.

“With computer coding and robotics on the cards as new subjects for more schools next year, according to the Department of Basic Education director-general, Mathanzima Mweli, this would also require electronic devices to be purchased.”

Health and safety costs

To ensure your child adheres to Covid-19 safety regulations, Wentzel said that there will be costs involved for face masks, face shields and hand sanitiser.

Parents are also urged to ensure their children are taking multivitamins every day and should provide them with good nutrition to build up their immune systems against the virus.

He added that children are struggling with the emotional fallout of Covid-19 and may need professional support.

“While some schools are lucky enough to have counsellors onsite, learners may need the additional support of a life coach or psychologist and this can cost anything from R750 – R1,200 per session.”

Clinical psychologist, Irene Streeten, said that the Covid-19 pandemic has created various levels of anxiety. Lockdown has had a serious impact on socialisation which can cause children to become withdrawn and depressed, or even rebellious.

“While Covid-19 itself is the designated pandemic, anxiety and depression have been labelled the shadow pandemics because they are the two main emotional consequences of the pandemic and lockdown,” said Streeten.


Retailer Game recently published data on how parents are preparing for the 2021 school year.

The data is based on a survey of more than 1,200 South Africans and covered questions around concerns and hidden costs of the ‘back to school’ period for parents.

More than three quarters (67%) of parents said they were concerned about finding funds for stationery and other school supplies, while 56% were concerned about mentally preparing their children to return to school.

However, the biggest concern for most parents (76%) is whether schools will again be shut down due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

When parents were asked to rank the annual costs of sending children to school (excluding school fees) from most to least expensive, the results were as follows:

  • Uniforms (including those for extra murals);
  • Stationery, textbooks, and course materials;
  • Technology (laptops, iPads, cell phones, and data);
  • Extra-mural activities (sporting goods, extra lessons and school trips);
  • Food (lunches, lunchboxes and cooldrinks).

When asked what they were spending annually on each child, outside of school fees, the majority (78%) said that they are spending less than R10,000, with 55% spending R5,000 or less.

Only 10% of respondents indicated that they are spending over R21,000.

This may decrease even further in 2021, as the survey found that 20% of the sample had taken a salary reduction since the beginning of lockdown, 17% were retrenched, and 11% had to close their businesses as a result of Covid-19 and lockdown.

“Sending children to school is certainly a priority for most parents in South Africa – however, it is also a huge source of financial strain,” said Katherine Madley, vice president of marketing at Game.

Read: Government wants to track parents in South Africa: report

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