Push to regulate online schools gains momentum

Education stakeholders have called on the Department of Basic Education (DBE) to speed up the development of a framework to regulate online schools.

Speaking at a webinar on Thursday, different role players in the education sector highlighted the importance of urgently putting a framework in place for online schools so that the sector can benefit from the many opportunities online schools present and safeguard the quality of education and assessment offered at the schools.

The webinar brought together academics, lecturers from technical and vocational education and training colleges, researchers, teachers, parents and different government departments in the education sector.

With the policy gap, the DBE cannot register online schools. The Council for Quality Assurance in General and Further Education and Training (Umalusi) cannot accredit them.

Antoinette Beck-Kaltenrieder, the head of campus at Generation Schools in Somerset West, gave a brief overview of the online schooling environment in South Africa, saying it is unregistered and unregulated.

“They ride on the registration of other institutions,” she said referring to institutions such as the Independent Examinations Boardn (IEB) and the South African Comprehensive Assessment Institute (Sacai).

“They are largely open by business,” adding that this contributes to the frequent staff changes that can have a negative impact on pupils education.

These schools, she said, also have no brick and mortar structures, making it difficult to accredit.

The absence of school governing bodies also means that there is a lack of accountability, she said.

Some of the challenges, said Beck-Kaltenrieder, are related to the credibility of the results presented by pupils.

“How do you know that pupils didn’t cheat?”

Department of education spokesperson Elijah Mhlanga said the department planned to have the framework in full use by the 2025 academic year.

He said the provincial education departments had provided inputs, which had been incorporated in the draft document.

“The draft framework has since been submitted to quality assurance body Umalusi for approval.

“Umalusi has provided feedback on areas that require strengthening. Since some of the aspects are of a legal nature, the legal section of the DBE is preparing guidance on proper response to the issues raised by Umalusi,” he said.

Mhlanga said because the department was developing a framework, not a policy, its development did not follow the process of gazetting requiring the minister to invite comments from the public.

“The public is consulted through the existing bodies, who in turn request inputs from their members.

“Inputs received from stakeholders in the online space include, among others, the IEB and Sacai as well as those schools that are operating as online schools.

“Their inputs were processed and incorporated in the draft framework,” he said.

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