Johannesburg – The independent school system is bracing itself for low-enrolment numbers because parents are losing their jobs.

Since the lockdown over a month ago, scores of people have lost their income, either as companies cut salaries or retrenched workers.

The executive director of the Independent Schools Association of Southern Africa (Isasa), Lebogang Montjane, said it would be expected that their institutions see low-enrolment numbers from next year.

“We are going into a deep recession. We expect this to last for about two to three years. What we expect is that the number of our pupils in the higher-fee schools is most probably going to drop because of the economic conditions,” Montjane said.

He said while schools have been closed since the national lockdown, all their member schools have continued teaching remotely.

“We did a forum for our low to moderate-fee schools, and another one for our mid to high-fee schools, and when we speak to them everybody is at school. Every category of our school is back in school for remote learning,” he said.

Montjane said while the economic conditions were hard, parents continued paying school fees.

“Most parents are paying their fees. We told our schools that when parents say they have lost their job and have proof, then they must deal with it on a case by case basis. We have been discouraging schools from doing across the board discounts,” he said.

Montjane said to give parents some breathing space, some schools that have fees due at the beginning of the term are now taking monthly payments.

“We are encouraging parents to continue paying. Eighty to 90% of the school budget is actually salaries. If you want teachers to be paid, you have to pay your (school) fees,” he said.

Montjane said some of the measures that independent schools are adopting now to deal with the crisis are likely to stick.

“We have seen the trend towards low-fee independent schools that have changed to online learning. A combination of contact and remote learning is what will be here to stay,” he said.

Montjane said Isasa would wait for the Department of Basic Education to announce when the schools will open, and school management teams are going back to school next week. He said while the department wanted pupils in Grades 7 and 12 to be the first cohort to return to their classes, they had a different view.

“From an independent school perspective, the grades we are worried about are Grades 12, 11 and 1, specifically. Those should be the preferred grades to re-enrol first. We are concerned about Grade 1s who are now learning to read and write.

“At pre-primary you are starting to get familiar with your letters and your colours and numbers. When you start Grade 1, you are starting to learn to read and write. That is a fundamentally important grade for us to catch up on,” he said.

Montjane said Isasa recommended that parents buy perspex masks, and teachers will also be required to wear them. In addition, he said, schools should not have full classrooms. Instead, pupils should be rotated.

“We will be recommending that all pupils and teachers entering the premises on a daily basis have their temperature measured and a log must be kept on temperature and that hand sanitisers are provided throughout the school.

“Pupils must sit a 1.5m apart. The other recommendation is that the pupils remain in their classroom and the teachers be the ones who rotate,” he pointed out.

The Star

By Tebogo Monama