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SCHOOLS, PARENTS’ DISAGREEMENT ON PAYING FEES RAGES

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MBABANE – There seems to be no common ground between schools and parents on the payment of fees, in full, during the ongoing partial lockdown.


The Little School, which is one of the private learning institutions that is at loggerheads with parents, as reported by the Times SUNDAY last week, has come out to defend its demand for the payment of school fees despite pupils not attending class.
However, parents are still adamant that there needs to be a compromise.


Frances Farrell, the principal, told this publication that Little School, just like other private schools in Eswatini and South Africa, needed the money because they run on the income received from school fees.


“Government does not help us at all, and our expenses have remained almost entirely the same as before the lockdown. If we reduce the school fees, that would necessitate reducing the salaries of our teachers. We feel an immense loyalty to our teachers as they have worked extremely hard during this time and we feel that they deserve their salaries,” Farrell said.


She said although they have managed to pay the teachers in full in the last two months, the school presently has enough to pay only eight of 42 staff members.

non-payment


She blames this entirely on the non-payment of first term fees.
“I do not feel it is unreasonable to ask for the balance of the first term’s fees when we are already two weeks into the second term,” the principal said.


But the parents are also standing their ground and want the money reduced because they claim that expenses for running schools during the lockdown period are also minimal.


“I am not willing to pay anything more than 25 per cent in contribution to the teacher’s salaries so they can feed their families.  Nothing more,” said one parent who listed five reasons to back this stance.


One of these is the amount of money she said she had spent in purchasing new study and reading material, including new devices and DVDs, as well as printing and data from WhatsApp videos sent by the school.


She also cites the alleged lack of contact by the school with parents to come and collect study material and packs to be used by the pupils while studying from home.


She said it should also be considered that even for the first term, they paid the fees in full but the pupils got a month’s worth of education, because schools were then closed after the coronavirus broke out. 

household expenses


Adding, she cited the ‘huge hike in household expenses’ and ‘the amount of work we are currently getting from the school’ as other reasons she is prepared to only pay not more than 25 per cent of the school fees. 


One other parent could not agree more, as she responded: “I do agree to some reasonable discount on fees due to the current state that we are living in.”


Another parent said the school was not taking them seriously and made it known that they had no problem in paying the school fees but wanted to be engaged.


“It’s really disappointing to see that the school has decided to just ignore our concerns. Honestly we are spending money printing out schoolwork, data, Wi-Fi and our time, yet we are expected to pay full payment. I mean really; why are we being ignored as parents,” she stated.

address their concerns


One more parent said he was also not sure if the school wanted to address their concerns because they were all paying for their children, but could not continue to pay the same fees since they did not see where the savings that the school was making at the moment went to.


He said the savings were in water, electricity, cleaning, maintenance, child care during the day, and stationery, all of which the parents said the school was not spending money on during the lockdown.


“All of these expenses are not directly paid by the parents, so the question is why should we pay the same?  I demand a comprehensive answer; one that will make a blind man or woman understand,” said the parent.


Another parent added: “Having said everything worth saying, we really look forward to a detailed response from The Little School addressing these concerns and proposing a way forward that will be a win-win for all parties concerned.”
While in the response sent to this publication, Farrell claims she only wanted school fees for the first term, parents have shared communication where they have been told to also pay for the second term.


“Our first term fees were due on the 3rd of March, which was two weeks before the schools were closed. Many parents are using ‘lockdown and loss of jobs’ as an excuse but this is opportunistic and dishonest as these fees were long before the lockdown was implemented. Our letter to parents was asking them to pay the balance on the first term’s fees.

This is not an unreasonable request as they have already had the tuition and service and more besides but have chosen – dishonestly – not to pay for them. We have also offered parents an option to pay the school fees monthly instead of termly,” reads the response from Farrell.

no uncertain terms


But this publication has seen that the parents, in their WhatsApp group, have been told in no uncertain terms that second term fees are also due.
“As I had said last week, I will be taking children off the groups that have not paid first term fees and those who have not paid anything towards second term,” the school’s office manager told the parents.


Parents who spoke to the Times SUNDAY said this message showed that the school’s response to the article published last week ‘is not true’.


The parents know of the response because it was also shared to them by the school.
In the response, Farrell continues and states that the school did not choose to close but it was a government decision and they were bound by it.



not an ideal situation
“Yes it is not an ideal situation and it would have been wonderful to have had the time to experiment with ‘tried and tested methods’ but we accepted the challenge to turn from a hands-on teaching school to a remote teaching school almost overnight, with less than a day’s notice, no training and minimal resources. We did not waste time trying things out, or sit around doing nothing in the hope that we would soon be allowed to go back to school. We grabbed the bull by the horns and got going immediately,” said Farrell.


She said teachers had not stopped working as work, in the form of new concepts, and exercises was being sent to pupils daily and teachers were on call for almost 18 hours a day and on weekends so as to accommodate parents who work.
She said teachers also help, via personal video calls, individual children who need extra help with a concept. 

  
“We have on numerous occasions stated to the parents that we will endeavour by all possible means to make sure that all children are helped to get up to standard when we go back to school. This extra help will consist of extra private classes for children struggling with certain topics and concepts, and will be after normal lessons and on weekends, at no extra cost to the parents,” the principal said.
She claims to have even asked parents to send her ideas, suggestions and complaints that would help the school improve.

Sifundzani: We miss pupils, but please pay up
Meanwhile, parents of Sifundzani Primary School are also up in arms after being told that they should pay fees even though it is not known when schools will, if at all, resume the academic year.


On Thursday, the parents received letters informing them of their school fees obligation.
“School fees for term two should have been paid by now as they are payable prior to the commencement of each term. We are most thankful to all parents who have complied with this requirement. If you have not made payment, please ensure that all outstanding amounts are paid.

Arrangements for payments may be made through the Bursar’s office,” reads the letter. Parents are, however, complaining as to why they are being made to pay full school fees yet the costs of physical education no longer apply.


“In fact, some of us have hired tutors to conduct home schooling for our children and this costs us money yet we are still expected to pay full school fees. The school is only thinking of itself and not the parents,” said a concerned parent.
The school has expressed its desire to have the pupils back at school as soon as possible.


“We miss our pupils’ company, their energy, their curiosity and sense of fun. We understand that they miss us too. The more we stay at home now the sooner we will be back together at Sifundzani premises,” said the school.

distance learning


‘‘At the moment the school has also engaged in distance learning and thanks the patience of parents with this plan. The school acknowledges that distance learning cannot reasonably replace in-person instructional programmes and has given the assurance that it will not try to replicate the regular school day. “Our plan is tailored for each grade level and the class teachers will be reaching out to you with information regarding lesson schedules, expectations and guidelines either weekly or daily. We do not want to overwhelm your children or yourselves as we provide education content and instruction during this time,” stated the school.


According to Sifundzani, some of the online teaching and learning is progressing well in Grade VII and this is reportedly evidenced in the records of work submitted and hope has been expressed that all senior grades would follow suit.
Pupils have been informed of the essential nature of engaging with each lesson offered and the need to do their best.
“Sub-standard work will not be tolerated. These lessons will focus on critical skills and content, and pupils who do not put their best effort risk creating gaps in knowledge and skills, and may find it difficult to catch up when we return to school,” adds the letter.
One other school where parents have raised concerns pertaining payment of school fees is at Enjabulweni.
Reports from the parents are that they are also demanding full school fees, which is reportedly around E4 000 a month.

data amount phenomenal
One of the parents said they had to incur costs of purchasing data to enable pupils to access material sent by the school.
“The amount of data is phenomenal for the parents. We also have to buy ink for the printer because the material has to be printed. Personally, I also need to have somebody at home to log the child in and still expected to pay about E4 000 a month to the school,” the parent said. He said what was even of concern was the kind of feedback that was given to the pupils for every work that has been submitted, which he said was sub-standard.
“The teachers upload only three worksheets a week, but the response is just ‘well done’ without any detailed, informative comment to assist the child see where they did well or poorly. The children are essentially learning nothing yet we have to pay E4 000 and they have sent us letters saying we must be up to date. We are up to date but my child is not wearing down their chairs or flushing their toilets or using their tissue papers or sports fields. I am not saying teachers should suffer but like all other parents, I am saying the school should engage us so we meet each other half way with the school fees. It’s a good school but the lack of desire to engage parents is wrong,” said the parent.
He said what was happening was that the parents were financing the lifestyle of the teachers even though they are not delivering any service.

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