Pri­vate schools bo­nanza

Com­pa­nies to cash in on pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion short­falls

The Star Early Edition - - BUSINESS REPORT - Siseko Njobeni

PRI­VATE ed­u­ca­tion com­pa­nies are set to ben­e­fit from the short­com­ings fac­ing pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion, which were high­lighted this week as gov­ern­ment schools bat­tled to place thou­sands of pupils in Gaut­eng and the West­ern Cape.

The plight of 40000 pupils not placed in schools in Gaut­eng as the aca­demic year got un­der way on Wed­nes­day, partly ex­plains the boom of low-fee pri­vate schools.

In re­cent years, South Africa saw growth in schools be­long­ing to Curro Hold­ings, SPARK Schools and Pi­o­neer Academies, among oth­ers.

JSE-listed Curro de­clined to re­spond to Busi­ness Re­port ques­tions yes­ter­day.

The group, which listed on the JSE in June 2011, has seen its an­nual rev­enue grow from R170mil­lion in 2011 to al­most R1.4bil­lion in the year ended De­cem­ber 2015. Not sur­pris­ingly, ris­ing rev­enue cor­re­lates the growth in the num­ber of schools and pupil en­rol­ments. Curro has pre­vi­ously said that its ob­jec­tive was to have 200 schools on 80 cam­puses by 2020.

Curro’s shares closed un­changed yes­ter­day at R47.02.

Pi­o­neer Academies chief ex­ec­u­tive Chinezi Chi­jioke said yes­ter­day that Pi­o­neer was es­tab­lished to serve the need in and out­side the coun­try for ex­cel­lent ed­u­ca­tion that was fi­nan­cially ac­ces­si­ble. In the past three years it had grown from a sin­gle school in Jo­han­nes­burg serv­ing 200 stu­dents to five schools across South Africa and Kenya, serv­ing more than 1200 stu­dents, said Chi­jioke, a for­mer head of McKin­sey & Com­pany’s African ed­u­ca­tion prac­tice.

“We see our­selves as part­ners to pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion. We all have the same mis­sion to ed­u­cate young South Africans to be the pioneers of to­mor­row. The same is true of our re­la­tion­ship with other in­de­pen­dent schools. What sets a Pi­o­neer ed­u­ca­tion apart, how­ever, is our school cul­ture and… our in­struc­tional meth­ods.

“We are fo­cused on de­vel­op­ing our stu­dents as lead­ers and in­no­va­tors through an ed­u­ca­tion that em­pha­sises prob­lem-solv­ing, lead­er­ship and char­ac­ter de­vel­op­ment. In 2016 our South African pri­mary school stu­dents’ growth in read­ing and math­e­mat­ics sig­nif­i­cantly ex­ceeded in­ter­na­tional av­er­ages. In fact in read­ing, we dou­bled the in­ter­na­tional growth rate. That is akin to gain­ing two years of read­ing de­vel­op­ment in a sin­gle year,” said Chi­jioke.

SPARK, which opened its first school in 2013, has had a sig­nif­i­cant rise in en­rol­ments, ac­cord­ing to its spokes­woman Mary Buss­chau. “We have (al­most) dou­bled the net­work ev­ery year since we have started. This year we will op­er­ate 11 schools serv­ing over 4 000 chil­dren,” said Buss­chau.

In choos­ing a lo­ca­tion for a new school, SPARK con­sid­ered a num­ber of fac­tors, she said. These in­cluded the size of the property and the fa­cil­i­ties avail­able.

“We also need to en­sure that the property is ap­pro­pri­ately lo­cated… that is sit­u­ated in what we call a ‘Goldilocks zone’, a lo­ca­tion that is in close prox­im­ity to dif­fer­ent de­mo­graph­ics and in tran­si­tional zones be­tween lower and higher in­come ar­eas. We also need to take into con­sid­er­a­tion whether there is a strong de­mand for a school like SPARK Schools,” she said.

PHOTO: NI­CHOLAS RAMA

Pri­vate schools have good growth prospects as the gov­ern­ment bat­tles to place thou­sands of pupils in schools in Gaut­eng and the West­ern Cape. SPARK has had a sig­nif­i­cant rise in en­rol­ments since it opened in 2013.

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