Online schools: Here are some of your options if your kid won't return to the classroom this year

Business Insider SA
  • Amid continuing uncertainty about children returning to school in South Africa, there are plenty of options for parents considering online-only schooling options. 
  • Curro Online is the latest entrant in the home-based education market.
  • Online learning options start from around R3,500 a year.
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Online education providers are scrambling to meet the demand after the minister of basic education, Angie Motshekga, announced on Tuesday that only Grade 7 and 12 pupils are going back to school at the beginning of June.

While uncertainty persists about when other grades will go back to school, many parents are reluctant to return their children to school at all – especially those with underlying conditions like diabetes or asthma - for fear of contracting Covid-19.

There are also concerns that children may contract the virus at school and infect family members, as well as the elderly and the most vulnerable in communities.

Online schooling offers a solution which is often affordable, and there are several companies offering different options.

READ | What we know about SA’s school reopening – and how other countries are allowing kids back

Importantly, when choosing a provider, you need to ensure the company is registered with the South African Comprehensive Assessment Institute (Sacai), which monitors education providers who adhere to the Department of Basic Education's CAPS curriculum.

Here are some of the current options:

Curro Online is SA's latest online school. While more details will be released next week, SA's biggest private school group stressed that this is not a home-schooling model, where parents need to take on the responsibility of teaching and continuous supervision. Instead, teachers will be present online during each lesson, and parents will only have to check homework.

Virtual Schools offers Grade 1 to Grade 12 by using a "blended" schooling method. Learners access tutors and lessons online and use textbooks and study guides. The lessons are set out according to a timeline and there is no need for parental assistance because learners can call a tutor when needed, says Alby Masters, registrar of Virtual schools. They also offer group and recorded lessons. "The aim is to encourage independent learners," says Masters. He says Virtual Schools' programme is such that learners can start at any time and finish when they are ready. It is easy to complete one year's curriculum online in six to nine months because there are no distractions, says Masters. Fees start at R3,500 per year for Grade R and reach R27,530 per year for Grade 12.

Brainline has been offering distance learning for more than 30 years, and became a fully online virtual school three years ago. Coleen Cronjé, CEO of Brainline, says the school offers Grade R to 12 to a couple of thousand learners all over the world. They follow the CAPS curriculum. Brainline makes use of live classes, webinars and recorded lessons. In addition, parents can buy textbooks, because physical books are often more comfortable for children to use for long periods of time, says Cronjé. Each lesson is loaded on to the learner's profile. Parents receive reports after every assessment period. Brainline's examinations are assessed by the IEB. Their fees range from R3,800 per year to R28,000 per year for matric. Cronjé says the school supports independent learning, but also encourages parents to be involved with their children's education to improve learning outcomes.

Clonard Education has been offering homeschooling assistance since 1996. Heather Tyrrell, director of Clonard, says they provide about 1,000 learners with the CAPS curriculum via online lessons and hardcopy textbooks. Clonard is Sacai registered and is managed by qualified South African teachers and assessors. The fees start at R3,500 per year and go up to R22,000 per year for Grade 12.

Impaq offers online education to over 18,000 students and has been operating since 2002. It also follows the CAPS curriculum and lessons are offered using webinars and textbooks. Learners are supported by over 1,200 experienced and qualified tutors. Impaq is registered with Sacai and learners do the national senior certificate exam. Grade R to 12 learners are accommodated, and Impaq says learners can easily integrate back into the traditional schooling system. Fees range from R3,552 for Grade R to R24,000 for Grade 12.

Think Digital College has been operating since 2016, and CEO Janessa Laita says it aims to replicate the schooling environment online by using recorded lessons and offering learners access to a tutor portal. The school sends parents a weekly report of their children's website activity, tests and assessments. They make use of private tutors, so that it is easier for parents, says Laita. They currently have almost 5,000 students. The school offers the CAPS curriculum for Grade R to 12 learners, as well as the R to A levels of the British schooling system supported by the Cambridge curriculum. Fees range from R3,750 to R14,000 per year.

Mytopdog offers online learning assistance to learners through its Vodacom e-school which is free to learners from Grade R to 12 with no data costs. Video lessons can be used by learners at their own pace.

Cambrilearn offers the British curriculum online to learners in SA. Fees start at R10,000 a year, and can go up to R60,000. Online teachers, daily interactive lessons, private lessons, and on-demand chat facility are offered. It covers from pre-primary to A-levels.

Afrikaans-speaking learners can currently access the Die Wolkskool for free. The school is part of trade union Solidariteit's school-support centre and offers Grade 1 to 12 online. The website was originally started as an online tool to assist learners and teachers, but is now a fully functioning online school. They teach all primary school subjects and 12 high school subjects by using video lessons on demand. The school is currently assisting 7,000 matric pupils to finish Grade 12. But note: Die Wolkskool is not accredited with Sacai. 

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