Listed private school and university group AdvTech has thrown its support behind government plans to regulate online schools in South Africa.
Basic Education minister Angie Motshekga recently announced that her department is developing a new framework to help formalise the rise of online schools in South Africa.
“In the last few years, the online school offering in South Africa has grown significantly. This continues to be the case, with an even greater increase in new online schools in the wake of the introduction of pandemic response measures in 2020,” said Chaile Makaleng: head of schools compliance and regulation at the AdvTech Group.
“While it is fairly easy for parents to assess the legitimacy of a physical school and escalate problems where they happen, this has not been the case with online schooling resulting in the risk of families being misled by ostensibly exciting novel offerings, which are not built on the foundation of excellence and integrity that all students deserve,” he said.
Makaleng said the Department of Basic Education (DBE)’s framework for virtual schools, proposed by government, should also assist in addressing concerns around so-called fly-by night schools and online schools that are not able to deliver on a quality education.
“Although in its initial stages, we appreciate the DBE’s long awaited regulatory support for a rapidly growing alternative to institutional types of teaching and learning in this country. We therefore urge the department to move with speed to ensure the requisite regulatory certainty regarding the establishment and maintenance of online schools.”
According to the AdvTech Group, some of the issues that now need to be addressed include:
- The process and timing for moving from guidelines that are out for comment to regulations and even legislation.
- Details related to how registration, reporting and quality assurance like accreditation will happen, and this includes the roles of provincial and district offices when these schools are not really “located” in districts.
- The link between these schools and higher education in South Africa.
- Clarity about the impact on homeschoolers and their support centres, and those families who still opt to remain outside of formal school-based education (online or physical) will be impacted.
- Students must also be able to move between online and in-person schools, and between home-based education and formal schools of both types, without being negatively impacted by lack of clarity on the status of schools and curricula and assessment bodies, Makaleng said.
“Given that many online schools follow international curricula leading to international examinations and certification, there should be measures in place to monitor the integrity of the type of curriculum that is offered by providers, to ensure unsuspecting parents and students are not left with certification not recognised in our higher education system,” Makaleng added.
“On the other hand, with regards to CAPS alignment and mapping, online schools should be expected to meet the key curriculum outcomes and it is not yet clear how this will be monitored by Umalusi and others in the context of the rights and responsibilities of independent schools.”
ADvTECH also believes that as with in-person schools, teachers at online schools should be thoroughly vetted, as contemplated by the Children’s Act in that all teachers must be officially cleared for appearance on the National Register for Sex Offenders (NRSO) and the National Child Protection Register (NCPR).
All teachers must be academically and/or professionally qualified and appropriately registered with SACE to ensure the integrity and safety of online teaching and learning.
Makaleng said all online schools should also be legally registered as a company or other legal entity and should be urged to establish and belong to a recognised association of online schools, particularly as this formal education mode is new in South Africa.