Learner placements and school fees: Motshekga on the state of readiness for the 2021 school year

School learners are expected to return to class on Monday (15 February), as state schools re-open, following a delay due to a second wave of the coronavirus.

Daily average Covid-19 infection cases have since declined steadily, from a peak in Mid-December, to early January.

Minister of Basic Education, Angie Motshekga, addressed the media on the state of readiness for the 2021 school year, on Sunday afternoon.

“It has been three weeks, since we started phasing-in the reopening of schools for the year 2021. School Management Teams returned on 25 January; and teachers have been back at work for two weeks now, since 01 February.

“The latest Amended School Calendar for 2021 as published by the Department, confirms that tomorrow – Monday, February 15, learners are going back to school. At the outset, we must emphasise that the health and safety of teachers, staff and learners remains at the top of the priority list,” the minister said.

Motshekga said that since the Covid-19 pandemic, the DBE has been monitoring the state of provinces on a regular basis, to ensure that provinces have systems in place to cope under the pandemic – and to provide support, where support is needed – to ensure smooth opening and running of schools.

School admissions

The minister said that the demand for space in schools, especially in grades 1 and 8, remains a challenge for the sector, said Motshekga. All provinces are experiencing a high demand in particular areas.

“Provinces have made good progress in placements, but there are still 16,117 learners awaiting spaces in schools,” the minister said.

“The Council of Education Ministers (CEM) met yesterday; and the matter of school admission was identified as critical, because the system cannot afford to see any learners being left behind.

“It was agreed that provinces would work with speed to place all the learners in the next week. CEM appeals to parents and guardians to cooperate with officials at the District level, in order to accelerate the placement process.”

Revised school admissions policy

The minister said that the department has gazetted a draft revised School Admissions Policy for public comment.

The draft Policy focuses on documents required for the admission of a learner; admission of learners, who are not South African citizens; undocumented learners; learners with special education needs; and school zoning, amongst other issues.

“The Policy also focuses on the right and obligations of parents. These are critical issues; hence, we are imploring the public to submit their comments to the Department by 12 March 2021.”

School fees

One of the questions frequently asked, is around the payment of school fees during the Covid-19 pandemic, the minister said. “It is important to clarify this matter. There are two types of public schools in the country, the fee-paying schools and no-fee paying schools.

“Fee-paying schools are allowed to charge school fees, as determined at the Annual General Meeting of the SGB. Therefore, the payment of school fees in such schools, is mandatory,” Motshekga stressed.

In terms of the South African Schools Act (SASA) of 1996, SGBs of a fee-paying schools have the authority to enforce parents to pay school fees through legal means, she said.

The liability of parents is determined through an affordability formula, which can be used to determine whether a parent can be exempted partially or fully from paying school fees, the minister said.

“There are other phenomena that parents have raised as serious concerns. There are schools that are reported to be charging parents registration deposits. Others are charging parents exorbitant amounts to pay staff the section 42 bonuses.

“This, schools do, despite the moratorium placed on the Public Service salary bill. We must advise schools to avoid such temptations; as the first is illegal; and second is completely unreasonable, especially as it is done and enforced under the devastation caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.”

The department also flagged the number of schools that have been vandalised over the festive season alone.

“Let us continue to adhere to the health and safety protocols – wear masks appropriately; sanitise and wash your hand with water and soap; keep social distancing; and avoid large gatherings. I urge every one of us, to play our part in keeping our communities safe and healthy,” said Motshekga.

Read: Some schools still not ready to start 2021 year: committee

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Learner placements and school fees: Motshekga on the state of readiness for the 2021 school year