The ABCs of your child’s future education

How to support, nurture and prepare your child for a successful future.
By Samantha Page

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It has been widely reported that today’s generation of parents have more choice than any generation before them. These moms and dads live in a world in which they can choose from a variety of television channels, stream movies online, organise their lives from a mobile device, gain access to hundreds of music options at a finger’s tap and when it comes to educating their child, there’s a veritable smorgasbord of educational delights on offer.
 
From the moment a baby is born, friends, family and society, whether collectively or independently, start planting the seed that earlier is better when it comes to choosing a school, but there’s so much to consider. Should you opt for public or private; full day or half day, Montessori, Waldorf or homeschooling and what about single-sex versus co-ed? And when it comes to primary school and high school, the choices deepen still to include school culture and your child’s individual needs and interests.
 
Breaking down education in SA
According to a 2015 study conducted by the Department of Management and Marketing at the University of Johannesburg, coupled with the plethora of choices, contemporary parents have high expectations of the schools where their children are educated, so they feel compelled to “shop around” and weigh up all the criteria, often looking beyond the now to their options for tertiary education. Parents are also not forced to enrol their child at the nearest school, but have the choice to sign up at the school of their preference.
 
Since 1996, the South African School’s Act recognised two broad categories of schools, namely public and independent schools. According to the Act, all former state and state-aided schools were deemed to be public schools and all private schools were absorbed into the independent schools’ category. It’s interesting to note that the number of independent schools in South Africa has more than tripled from 518 in 1994, to 1 571 in 2012 – a number that is no doubt higher today. While the growth could be attributed to many parents losing faith in the public school system due to dysfunctional institutions, large class sizes and under-qualified teachers, it’s also fair to conclude that the burgeoning middle class wants high-quality education for their children and they are prepared to pay for it.
 
“I had no idea how competitive parents get when it comes to getting their children into the school of their choice,” confesses one Cape Town mom after she witnessed two dads nearly come to blows in her son’s preschool parking lot because both parents applied to a school in Cape Town’s southern suburbs and only one child was accepted. Both parents’ choice was largely influenced by the school’s strong sport’s culture, but one boy came from a “feeder” preschool, which could have been the deciding factor, says the mom.
 
A feeder preschool can be one of a network of schools within a designated catchment area, which works in conjunction with a primary or secondary school to increase a child’s chances of getting a placement. Many parents believe that a successful education begins when a child is placed at the right feeder preschool, while others think that the principal, teachers and school culture have as much to do with making the right choice. Some of the other considerations are proximity, transportation, special interests (arts, culture, music), curriculum structure, amenities (gym, technology, library), reputation and, of course, school fees.
 
The price of education
Old Mutual projects the annual cost of private primary education in 2021 to be R109 000 per year and a staggering R176 000 for a private high school. According to the same report, a public primary or high school will set you back R45 000 per year. And when it comes to university, Old Mutual estimates that one year of study in 2021 will cost R77 000, rising to a staggering R237 000 in 2034.
 
Understanding matric
If the public school system seems inferior, parents will keep factoring in private education and if they are also thinking long-term and laying the groundwork for entry into a tertiary institution, private seems like a good option, but there are some snags to this choice too.
 
Most learners in South Africa write the National Senior Certificate (NSC) exam in Grade 12, but some private schools use the Independent Examinations Board (IEB) exam, which must be certified by Umalusi, the national qualification authority. Considered cognitively more demanding than the NSC, the IEB does prepare learners better for tertiary education, but it’s also a tougher exam, making it more difficult to achieve distinctions and university admission. A Bachelor’s Pass (formerly matric exemption) is essential for entry into a South African university and the following criteria is required:
 
  • The learner must obtain at least 40% for their Home Language
  • The learner must obtain at least 50% for four other Higher Credit subjects
  • The learner must obtain at least 30% for two other subjects
 
South African universities also require all prospective students to sit for the National Benchmark Tests, which is an entrance exam that assesses linguistic, numerical and mathematical ability.
 
When it comes to choosing a school, academics is a natural consideration and most parents and learners will be looking at what subjects are on offer and whether those choices will open the right doors for further study or employment down the line, but it’s also fair to thoroughly investigate the school climate and culture, which is less likely to be reported on, as well as the level of innovation and transformation. Plus, given the stress many learners are under, identifying what emotional support the school offers be in the way of a school or guidance counselor, is equally important.
 
Is the grass greener abroad?
The deeply troubling atmosphere at South African universities during the #FeesMustFall protests, had learners and parents thinking more seriously about studying abroad. If you’re planning undergraduate study overseas, your South African matric will require some kind of “top up”, depending on the institution to which you are applying. While you won’t have to rewrite matric, you’ll probably have to supplement your academic record to qualify to apply. These are three possible routes:
 
  • Cambridge International Examinations (CIE) If you’re in Grade 8, 9 or 10 and you are certain you want to study abroad after school, you should consider moving to a private school that offers CIE. These examinations allow you to complete your AS (Advanced Subsidiary) and A (Advanced) Levels, which are recognised locally and internationally.
  • Scholastic Aptitude Tests (SATs) SATs are America’s standardised tests that students write in their final year of high school. University acceptance depends almost entirely on these results.
  • American College Testing (ACT) exams This exam is like the SATs, but includes a science component in addition to the reading, writing and mathematics covered in the SATs. ACT and SATs are considered equal by overseas universities.
 
How important is a university degree?
#FeesMustFall raised many relevant and controversial discussions, but arguably one of the most interesting came from trend analyst Dion Chang. “Students might be fighting the wrong battle in the right war,” declared Chang in a podcast with ebizradio.com. “The value of the degree is decreasing internationally as companies are beginning to search for staff that are adaptable and able to deal with multiple skills in the workplace.”
 
In 2015, top accounting firm Ernst & Young decided to remove degree classification from its entry requirements since they believe there’s “no evidence” that university equals success. While academics will still play an important role in hiring, online testing will also be a factor in determining the candidate’s hybrid skills like critical thinking and problem solving. “Experience,” argues the Harvard Crimson student newspaper, could become the new currency driving post-matric learners towards a future that doesn’t include a university degree. Trade schools and tertiary institutions offering learnerships in plumbing, construction and electrical work are on the rise and support Chang’s view that future companies will be leaning towards makers not managers.
 
Looking to the future
More parents are wondering whether our schools and educational institutions are doing enough to foster these hybrid skills and if the school curriculum supports the development of individuals who have adequately mastered the academics as well as the varied skills required in the future workplace. Parents might need to consider pushing beyond the conventional measures of success and achievement when thinking about their child’s education, and opt for schools that are developing individuals that are not just certificated, but educated in the true sense of the word.

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