In 2012, the South African Department of Education released findings of an alarming number of unregistered schools across all provinces. The law states that all schools (public and independent) must be registered with the Department of Basic Education at national and provincial level. Registration grants the applicant school legal authority to offer basic education and enables it to operate within the law. With nearly 26 000 illegitimate educational institutions identified, the government department prioritized on curbing the practice. The problem still persists, though much has been done to create public awareness of the problem. Hefty fines have been implemented, legislation amended, schools closed and perpetrators have been jailed for creating these bogus schools, which essentially defraud and forge the certificates/qualifications of illegally trained students.
There are two types of schools in SA; public and independent. While the state controls public schools, the set up of independent schools, which have their own operations, mission, faith and ethos and essentially, their own curriculum and control is a complicated process. There are various departments and organizations, like ISASA - the Independent Schools Association of South Africa which provide schools with vital information and aid to legally start up their establishments. When considering applications, the Department of Education will look at the quality, financial stability, qualifications, legal operations and health and safety of the school. It is also assessed for resources, capacity and expertise. If everything is found to be satisfactory, the school will be issued with a letter and certificate of registration which states the registration number, the phases/grades for which it is registered and the address at which the school is situated. This must be visibly displayed on the school's premises.
The issue is not all that black and white however. There are indeed fly-by-night schools which advertise courses and qualifications which do not exist, receive payment and cannot deliver the education. This happens often at further education level and with online learning centers. There are also however, community-run schools created by parents and families of children living in the rural or poverty laden areas with no other alternative; where there are no other schools or the formal schools are inadequate or overcrowded. The Department shuns such schools as oftentimes the teachers are not qualified to educate and do more damage than good. A contentious issue indeed, as the Department of Education in 2014 received 20% (R254 billion); the highest share of government's consolidated expenditure, in hopes of dealing with these kinds of urgent educational needs.
The Department of Education has been very vocal in what you can do to prevent your child from attending an illegitimate school:
- Obtain the school's registration number and call your provincial Department to check if it is legit. You can also check with the Umalusi Council, which sets and monitors standards for general and further education or contact the South African Qualifications Authority which deals with accreditation and quality assurance. They are easily found on the web.
- Check the school's premises to your satisfaction. Have all your concerns regarding facilities, health and safety been met?
- Study and understand the school's enrollment forms carefully before signing it, make sure your child is registered for the right grade and the right courses in the right language, etc.
If you know or suspect a school of being guilty of contravening the law, please call 0800 87 22 22 to report and/or check the facts. Such schools may face 10 years imprisonment and/or face a R250 000 fine.