Trouble for online schools in South Africa

 ·2 Jul 2023

Several notable online schools in South Africa have shut down over quality concerns and a ‘lack of support’.

A statement from Umalusi, a national exam quality assurer, which said that it had not accredited any online school in South Africa, has also added to the woes of online schools.

According to the Sunday Times, The South African Comprehensive Assessment Institute (Sacai) has decided not to register Cape Town online school SEAT Academy for failing to submit the proper assessments, while a prominent online school started by St Stithians closed in June due to a lack of support.

Valenture Institute, a partner of the online school with St Stithians, noted that the new type of schools are struggling due to the increase in online schools in the country. At the same time, many parents have decided to revert to conventional schooling after the Covid-19 pandemic.

Additionally, two online schools in KwaZulu-Natal provided matric pupils with counterfeit registration letters and distributed outdated question papers to grade 12 students during their final exams in the previous year – leading to their closure, reported the Sunday Times.

This prompted Umalusi to publish a statement 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 had not accredited any online school in the country.

This caused a stir among parties of interest in the online school space in the country, and several schools had to issue statements clarifying the confusion and concerns raised over online qualifications.

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.

The school explained 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 the private assessor, SACAI, under license from Umalusi.

Sacai CEO Keith Maseko said that 39 distance education providers were registered with them to write the matric exams. Confidence Dikgole, CEO of the Independent Examinations Board (IEB), said nine online schools and one distance education provider registered with them. 

Umalusi spokesperson Biki Lepota confirmed Sacai and the IEB are accredited assessors and that their online schools are registered for assessments and as exam centres. 

Recently, the registration and legitimisation of online schools in South Africa has sparked controversy due to the emergence of such schools during the Covid-19 pandemic. Unfortunately, without a proper framework to regulate these schools, there has been an increase in fraudulent activity, as pointed out by Umalusi.

Despite this, 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.

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