Schools feeling the pinch of growing economic pressure

By Nathaniel Lee

Parents struggle to keep up with fees while students are affected mentally

South Africans are bracing themselves for tough economic times ahead as the rising cost of inflation continues to pummel household incomes.

Those in the know inform us that it is going to get worse. Price hikes in food, petrol and property rates, among others, have necessitated lifestyle changes for many households as families try to keep their heads above the inflation waters. Not only do consumers have to cut down on luxuries but even basics have had to undergo downgrades.

According to the Bureau of Economic Research at Stellenbosch University, the cost of living will get worse before prices stabilise some time next year. Some of the downgrades consumers have had to implement include reduced spending on eating out, travel and entertainment to make room for more urgent payments.

With the costs of bond payments up due to rising interest rates, South Africans are cutting back on discretionary spending to deal with the soaring inflation and growing economic pressure. The inflation situation is also taking its toll on the mental health of many.

CEO of Debt Rescue, Neil Roets, has sounded a warning that these price hikes mean South Africans are hanging on by a thin thread. and that there is no more room to manoeuvre.

One despondent consumer said she had to cut on basics and, “We are now just hanging on by our fingertips.”

Schools also find themselves in the middle of the inflation crisis as parents struggle keep up with fees. Private schools in particular struggle with enrolments as parents move their children to more affordable public schools.

According to a school survey by TPN Credit Bureau, which helps 1,070 public and private schools collect fees and minimise bad debt, the number of school fees in good standing is declining steadily. Higher fees are proving unaffordable and parents are compelled to review their priorities.

CEO of School-Days, Paul Esterhuizen said that the cost of education at government and private schools had been increasing at the rate of 4%-6% per year. “Estimates are that this trend is not likely to change any time soon with education inflation expected to outpace the consumer price index by up to 3%.”

Further bad news for parents already struggling with the cost of living crisis is that the cost of education is expected to exceed salary inflation. The situation becomes dire when one factors in other associated costs such as uniforms, books, sports equipment and school trips.

The inflation crises also has a negative impact on students’ mental health as they have to assume financial responsibilities, leading to heightened stress levels. They may face immense pressure to work more, causing stress, anxiety and burnout.

It is important to explore the dichotomy between private and public education. One reason parents prefer private education for their children is the perception of the better quality education.

A comparison of the matric results may lend credence to such a perception. Despite huge investments in public education, our education system remains one of the worst-performing in the world. Private schools charge R150,000 on average to an average of R45,000 for the most expensive public school.

Other advantages include smaller class sizes, which allow individual attention and access to highly qualified teachers due to having more funding. In 2022, the IEB matric results stood at 98.42% compared to 80.1% from the NSC results.

It is the duty of every parent to give their offspring the best education. The best way any parent can do this is by getting involved in the school and community.

Parents can do this by helping their children with school work, attend school functions and communicate with the teachers. With more meaningful parental involvement, there can he a marked improvement in quality education at public schools.

This will then minimise if not completely obviate the need for private schooling.

Such a reality will help suffocating South Africans to navigate the tough economic times more successfully and also ensure the next generation stands a better chance to flourish.

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