Homeschool, micro-school, learning centre, unregistered private school, low-fee school and cottage school are names that refer to small independent or private schools that are operated by a small group of entrepreneurs, parents, ex-teachers or volunteers. This fast-growing phenomenon was acknowledged in a 2010 research paper by the Centre for Development and Enterprise, which described it as South Africa’s "hidden asset". This research was followed by a 2012 report with the title "Promoting school choice for the poor" and a 2013 report with the title "Affordable private schools in South Africa".
These types of schools are growing quickly in countries such as India, Pakistan, Chile, Ghana and Colombia, but they also occur in a highly regulated countries such as the Netherlands. In Nepal, Uttam Sanjel, a former actor, started a network of bamboo schools to provide private education to poor children.
A more recent development is boutique schools. These schools are fast replacing the more traditional private schools. Learning is blended, the schools are progressive and the teachers are mentors. Boutique schools are generally bigger than cottage schools and learning centres as they can accommodate up to 50 students, but are still smaller than typical private schools.
THE LEGAL ENVIRONMENT
Although South African citizens have the constitutional right (article 29(3)) to operate independent or private schools, many of these schools are not registered with the provincial government. According to the report this is because these schools are expected to meet a large number of strict requirements set by officials who have no knowledge of independent or private education. Sometimes it also takes years to register an independent or private school.
Officials at the Department of Education are generally negative about small independent or private schools and view them as “fly by nights” that exploit parents by charging high fees and delivering low quality education. Due to this, the provincial government actively attempts to close down unregistered independent or private schools.
SUPPORT LEARNING CENTRES
SAHomeschoolers.org, in cooperation with the Pestalozzi Trust, has launched an initiative to help parents find unregistered independent or private schools without making the contact details of the schools publicly available.
This is in response to the fact that:
- South African citizens have a constitutional right to establish independent or private schools
- the provincial authorities require citizens to meet burdensome and illegal requirements in order to be allowed to exercise what they are entitled to;
- there are entrepreneurs who want to establish and maintain independent or private schools;
- there are parents who want to send their children to such unregistered independent or private schools in order to promote the interests of their children;
The Pestalozzi Trust is a registered public benefit organisation. It has made it possible for parents to choose home education with assurance and confidence and in the best interests of their children since 1998. The Trust does this by preventing and solving conflict between members and education and welfare departments and other state authorities, and by defending it members in court if conflict cannot be settled outside the courts.
SAHomeschoolers.org operates a comprehensive, independent website that brings together parents and suppliers who offer products and services to homeschooling parents.
This initiative provides stakeholders with the following benefits:
- Entrepreneurs can maintain independent or unregistered private schools without the risk of being closed by the provincial authorities cannot meet a number of unreasonable and illegal requirements.
- Parents can find and contact such schools.
- Curriculum suppliers can market their products to such entrepreneurs.
As part of the initiative, the Pestalozzi Trust has created a membership category for civil educational institutions that includes independent or private schools. These schools receive the following benefits:
- The Trust helps the school avoid and solve conflict with the authorities.
- The Trust informs the school of the relevant issues around registration with the authorities.
- The Trust pays legal costs (at its discretion) when a dispute between the school and the authorities needs to be resolved in a court.
- The Trust markets the initiative in the media.
As part of the initiative, SAHomeschoolers.org provides the following services on its website:
- A facility through which parents can contact unregistered independent or private schools without exposing the details of the organisation.
- A facility through which curriculum suppliers that support learning centres can advertise their products and services to entrepreneurs who would like to start a learning centre.
COTTAGE SCHOOL FACEBOOK GROUP
A Facebook group has been created where operators of learning centres can interact with each other. For safety reasons, it is a closed group.