With the Covid-19 pandemic wiping out up to half of all scheduled school days for millions of South African learners, it’s become more critical than ever that parents get the opportunity to provide the best possible education for their children in the coming years.
Speaking ahead of World Children’s Day on 20 November, Stacey Brewer, the co-founder of independent school network SPARK Schools, said there are more than 12 million school-going children in South Africa, and not enough middle- to low-cost schools to serve them.
“The pandemic has underscored the importance of the role of schools to not only deliver an equitable, high-quality education to South Africa’s schoolchildren, but also to provide social-emotional support and critical life skills to scholars,” said Brewer.
Until a few years ago, South African parents wanting to give their children the best possible education either had to bite the bullet to pay for private schooling or take their chances in the government schooling system. That’s starting to change, with the emergence of a new generation of schools that are providing private school quality education at a price point comparable to many government schools.
According to SPARK School’s market research, there are three key factors that stand out when parents choose a new school for their children: affordability, safety and the quality of education. In fact, some parents will pay up to 20% of their income to secure the best possible schooling for their children.
Other factors influencing the choice of a school include proximity to home or work, the availability of extra-mural activities, and a positive culture and values. And while most parents care about academic achievement as part of a quality education, they also want an education that develops real-world skills – social, thinking and emotional skills – and prepares their children for a life beyond school.
“Once you cut through all the high-level reasons parents come up with for sending their kids to a certain school, though, it’s remarkably simple. They want to come home every day to smiley, happy kids who get a great education in a safe environment,” says Brewer.
The SPARK Schools mission is to provide affordable, globally competitive education to South African families who may previously have been unable to access this quality of education. SPARK Schools fees for 2020 were set at R25,500 for primary school children and R33,000 per high school child, which is comparable to many Model C schools – without receiving a cent in subsidies from government. It has already announced that it won’t be raising fees for new or existing scholars in 2021 to support many families struggling financially as a result of the pandemic.
For Brewer, it goes one step further than that. “Everyone talks about how the education system in South Africa is in crisis, and that the future is bleak. For us, as an independent network of schools, it’s a massive opportunity to create the change, and give our children the start they deserve.”
While fully aligned to South African national standards, SPARK Schools extends learning to meet international grade level standards. Therefore, each curriculum used encompasses the requirements of the CAPS curriculum and deepens student knowledge to make SPARK scholars globally competitive. In Grade R, for example, South African learners are only expected to be able to count to ten. At SPARK Schools and internationally, Grade R learners are able to count to 100.
SPARK Schools also uses technology extensively within the classroom. “Today‘s educational environment means we have to think differently to meet the needs of our learners. When they are not in school, just about everything our young people do involves technology in some way. By integrating technology into the classroom, teachers are not only changing the way they teach, but giving scholars the critical tools, they need to forge meaningful futures in the 21st century,” says Brewer.