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30 Jun 2016 00:00
A growing lack of confidence and reputability in public education is driving parents straight into private schools. (Madelene Cronjé, MG)
South Africa’s super-rich and middleclass
families are so desperate to secure
places for their children at local “Ivy
League” private schools that they are
enrolling them before they are born.
The country’s second most expensive
private school, Michaelhouse, confirmed
this week that more than 30 families,
including two who were expecting the
“imminent” birth of their sons, had
applied for enrolment in grade eight at
the school for 2030.
This comes in the wake of latest statistics
from the department of basic education
which, according to the Mail &
Guardian’s calculations, shows that pupil
enrolment at private schools increased
by 58 463 between 2011 and 2014, from
479 958 to 538 421.
During the same period the number
of private schools increased by 195, from
1 486 to 1 681.
This week, private schools confirmed
that black pupil enrolment was increasing
because many parents perceived the bulk
of the state schools to be dysfunctional.
Curro Holdings, which owns 110 private
schools, said at least 66% of its 41 864
pupils were black.
A new player in the private school sector,
Sizwe Nxasana, who is also the chairperson
of the National Student Financial
Aid Scheme (NSFAS), and his wife, Judy
Dlamini, are planning to build a string
of affordable, independent schools in the
country and the rest of Africa.
The director of marketing at Michaelhouse,
Murray Witherspoon, said the
increase in enrolment could be attributed
to the curriculum and the public’s fear
that state options “don’t open as many
doors”, especially internationally, as the
Cambridge or Independent Examinations
Board curricula do.
“Registrations have been increasing
for the past three or four years. Certainly,
demand has been on the up.”
Witherspoon confirmed that black
pupil enrolment has been increasing, adding,
“mostly because of improved communication
and support on our part that our
brand is desirable and attainable”.
The annual tuition and boarding fees
for this year at Michaelhouse amount to
Rob Long, the second master
at St John’s College in Houghton,
Johannesburg, said the increase in the
number of black pupils at their institution
was encouraged because it was “consistent
with our values and ethos”.
Commenting on the trend of parents
trying to secure a place at the school as
soon as their child was born, he said parents
felt they stood a better chance of
getting their children into their school of
choice by doing so.
“We don’t allow parents to register their
Colin Northmore, the head of Sacred
Heart College, said there would be only
eight places available in grade eight for
new enrolments in two year’s time. “There
are 12 places available for next year.”
He said black middle-class families had
always sent their children to his school
and would continue to do so.
“But wealthy black families, I think,
are starting to seek out the prestige they
perceive to be attached to some of the
monastic schools. They will seek out a
perceived Ivy League school because they
want to have bragging rights. I think it’s
misguided but it’s the truth.”
At least 47% of their pupils are black
and 18% white.
Northmore said, despite there being
very high-performing public schools, he
believed that the public education system
has failed the country.
“I am deeply critical of the current curriculum
that is on offer to children in
South African schools. The Caps [curriculum
and assessment policy statements]
is, I think, the absolute wrong direction
to take our education. It’s a very content-heavy
curriculum, a very scripted, minimalist
curriculum. We are not teaching
children to become critical thinkers but to
become rote learners.
“The longer this curriculum persists,
the more difficult it is going to be for children
to compete internationally,” he said.
“If I was doing that [the Caps curriculum],
it would close the school. Our
teachers are incredibly innovative. We
are doing project-based learning. We
have our own critical thinking skills programme
at school. For example, we teach
children to develop apps for the iPad.”
Andries Greyling, the chief operating
officer of Curro Holdings, said the global
trend indicated that private schools were
moving towards making up 20% of the
total number of schools.
“If South Africa follows this trend,
there is huge potential for many more
independent schools to be developed.
More independent schools frees up space
in existing state schools and the state
then has to spend less on building new
He added that a lower teacher-pupil
ratio in state schools would enhance curriculum
standards. Greyling said Curro Holdings would
have built another 49 schools by 2019.
Lebogang Montjane, executive director
of the Independent Schools Association
of Southern Africa (Isasa), which has 709
member schools in South Africa, said
39.6% of learners attending its member
schools were black African and 47.7%
Nxasana and his wife, who are the
founders and sole shareholders of Future
Nation Schools, want their schools to
achieve a 100% bachelor studies pass in
every matric class.
Nxasana is the former chief executive of
FirstRand and Dlamini, a medical doctor
who moved into business, is chairperson
of pharmaceutical company Aspen
and the Mbekani Group, which has operations
and investments in health, facilities
management, tourism, fashion retail and
Nxasana said the intention of Future
Nation Schools is to produce African leaders
who are passionate, confident, excel
in what they do and are ready for the 21st
Their vision is to build schools that
offer excellent education characterised by
pupil-centred learning, problem-solving
skills, project-based teaching and learning,
innovation, leadership, entrepreneurship
and African studies.
“We want to develop young people
who expect excellence of themselves and
others, and who develop habits of excellence.
Our teachers will be expected to
constantly hone their skills in pursuit of
excellence for both themselves and their
Said Nxasana: “I’m involved with
NSFAS but I believe it’s important to
come up with new ways of learning and
teaching using innovation and focusing
on things like entrepreneurship, leadership,
African languages and African studies.
It is also important to promote the
culture of critical thinking and of problem-solving
among our students at the
foundational level, from preschool right
up to when they get to higher education.”
Nxasana is also the chairperson and
a trustee of the National Education
Collaboration Trust (Nect), a partnership
between the government and civil society
to achieve better educational outcomes
for the country.
“We put together Nect to mobilise the
private sector, civil society and unions to
work with government and the department
of basic education to improve the
quality of education. We are already operating
in 4362 schools in eight education
districts in five provinces.”
He was appointed to head a ministerial
task team that would advise the government
on alternative financing and operating
models for funding poor and “missing-middle”
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