Online school confusion in South Africa

 ·26 Jun 2023

Online schools in South Africa are moving to assure parents that qualifications from legitimate institutions are valid and quality – despite digital learning not yet being recognised or regulated by the government.

Several schools have issued statements this week, clarifying confusion and concerns raised over online qualifications after quality assurance group Umalusi published a statement last week warning of “bogus” schools that were emerging and scamming parents with fake qualifications.

Umalusi said it was working with the South African Police Service (SAPS) to clamp down on institutions issuing students with fake letters bearing the Umalusi logo, which are purported to be legitimate registration letters.

Umalusi said that it has not accredited any online school in the country.

“To date, Umalusi has not accredited any online school to offer any of its qualifications. In the same vein, Umalusi is unaware that any provincial education department has registered any such institution,” it said.

According to online school, Brainline, the messaging from Umalusi has caused confusion, especially with the commentary that no online schools have been accredited, casting doubt on the quality and legitimacy of online qualifications in general.

Brainline said that it is registered with the IEB, which is registered with Umalusi, giving its courses credence. The University of Cape Town’s Online School has also noted its National Senior Certificate is accredited by private assessor, SACAI, under license from Umalusi.

The reason for this confusion, the groups said, is because there is no legal framework for online schools to be recognised in accreditation terms.

“It is important to clarify that online schools in the country are not recognised or regulated by the current legislation governing traditional brick-and-mortar institutions – but that this does not affect the validity of the qualifications provided by legitimate online schools,” Brainline said.

“While the current legal framework for schools in South Africa pertains specifically to physical institutions, it is crucial to note that Brainline is registered with the Independent Examination Board (IEB), which is in turn registered with Umalusi. This registration ensures that Brainline adheres to rigorous academic standards and assessment practices, offering accredited and high-quality educational experience for students.”

The registration and formalisation of online schools in South Africa have become a controversial topic in the country, given the advent of such schools in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. Crucially, however, in lieu of a framework to govern these schools, there has been a rise in ‘scams’, as highlighted by Umalusi.

In January 2022, Basic Education minister Angie Motshekga said her department was developing a new framework to help regulate the rise of online schools in South Africa, adding, at the time, that government had already developed the draft framework for the establishment of both online private and public schools.

However, much of the conversation has shifted to wider homeschooling regulations as covered in the Basic Education Laws Amendment Bill (BELA Bill), which has been met with wide criticism from stakeholders and the public in engagements and consultations with the department.

The main issue with the proposed law, insofar as homeschooling is concerned, are worries over the government over-stepping and trying to regulate what many see as a parent’s inalienable right to determine how their child is educated.

According to Brainline, the industry is “actively engaging with policymakers and relevant stakeholders to explore the development of appropriate legislation and regulatory frameworks for online schools”.

“Our objective is to ensure that any future regulations align with the best interests of students, guaranteeing quality education and safeguarding their rights,” it said.

In the meantime, it urged policymakers, educators, parents, and students, to exercise caution when considering or making claims about the legitimacy of online schools.

“While there is potential for the growth and development of online education, it is crucial to establish the necessary legal frameworks and quality assurance mechanisms to protect the interests of students and ensure educational excellence.”

Read: Online school warning for South Africa

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