ADvTECH, South Africa’s leading private education provider, says it supports government’s intentions to create the conditions to regulate and quality assure the establishment and maintenance of online schools in South Africa, and looks forward to working with relevant authorities to ensure measures introduced will lead to an improved and quality educational experience for all online students.
“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,” says Chaile Makaleng: Head of Schools Compliance and Regulation at the ADvTECH Group.
The ADvTECH Group has 108 schools across South Africa and the rest of Africa. It has more than 33 900 students attending 9 brands, including Crawford International, Trinityhouse, Pinnacle Colleges, Abbotts College, Junior Colleges, The Bridge Assisted Learning School and Evolve Online School, its online school.
“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,” Makaleng says
“Education is too important not to safeguard learners against opportunistic operators.”
Makaleng says when evaluating the merits of an online school, parents should take into account the same considerations they would if they chose an in-person learning institution. Of course, parents must ensure that the school is able to technologically rise to the challenge, but old-school considerations should still factor into the decision.
“New online schools do not have a track record, and parents must therefore look for other indicators of what performance is likely to be. A school that is part of a network – especially one whose schools were able to continue offering the highest quality of academic excellence during lockdown – is easier to assess, as the success of other schools in the group should be replicable in the online environment.
“Another important thing to check is whether this is a school that can and will make arrangements for formal assessments in the final years and how these results will then lead to or hinder access to post schooling opportunities. There are online offerings that are curricula only, that are used for instance by home schoolers, and then there are online schools that provide clear leadership on this liaison for you for school leavers. Families need to understand which ones they are accessing. Before the regulations are finalised, this remains a difficult area to navigate – for both the online schools and the families.”
Makaleng says 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.”
Some of the issues that now need to be addressed include the following, Makaleng says:
- 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 SA.
- Clarity about the impact on home schoolers and their support centres, and those families who still opt to remain outside of formal school-based education (online or physical) will be impacted.
“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 says.
“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.”
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.
“In order to strengthen, where appropriate, synergies between online schools and in-person schools, the former must be required to be able to demonstrate how they comply with key assessment standards and protocols, mindful of the rights and responsibilities for independent schools in this regard,” Makaleng says.
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 integrity and safety of online teaching and learning.
Makaleng says 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.
“We look forward to the swift finalisation of the proposed framework, and the improved educational outcomes for all online students.”