Learning in the lap of luxury

2014-01-19 10:00

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Private schools offer many privileges, but at a hefty price.

With R261?000, you can either go on your dream holiday or make over your home or buy a new car or pay for a four-year university degree at one of South Africa’s top universities and still have some change left over.

Or you can pay for a single academic year for your son at Hilton College, South Africa’s most expensive private school.

Hilton, set in KwaZulu-Natal’s lush Midlands, is not the only one.Other pricy schools include Bishops in the Western Cape, Michaelhouse in KwaZulu-Natal, St Andrew’s College in the Eastern Cape, Crawford campuses across the country, and St John’s College and St Stithian’s in Gauteng.

These schools occupy sprawling estates covering several hectares and offer facilities that attract the offspring of royalty, the rich and famous, sporting stars and captains of industry.

At Hilton, your R261?000 pays for tuition and boarding (R209?000), and entrance fees (R52?000).

But it will not cover books, stationery, medicine, doctors’ fees, special entertainment or travel.

There is an additional annual fee of R5?000 for boys who are interested in rowing and R4?000 for canoeing.

St Andrew’s College charges its matrics who live in the school hostel R182?000 for tuition and boarding fees.

Their parents have to pay R18?000 in additional charges and another R15?000 in entrance fees.

Michaelhouse charges about R192?000 for boarding and tuition –?this excludes an upfront acceptance fee of R24?000.

At Bishops, grades 8 to 12 will pay R168?000, excluding an entrance fee of R18?000.

If you decided to send your son to St John’s this year, you will already know you are looking at a bill of R180?000 for tuition, development and boarding.

With all that money, these schools can afford to offer world- class sporting facilities?–?heated swimming pools, rowing, canoeing, shooting, indoor and outdoor basketball, and hockey.

Extramurals include art, drama and music. Pupils can also take up hobbies like film and photography.

Most of the schools also have fully fledged, purpose-built theatres and auditoriums.

But what else do these schools offer that your child will not have access to at a public, former Model C school or a low-fee, private one?

There is too much to describe, says Murray Witherspoon, marketing director at Michaelhouse.

“All members of academic staff live on the property. This means all 566 boys have 24-hour access to them at any time. If there is something they don’t understand, they just send an email, which will be answered promptly. Our property is in a nature reserve and the boys have access to it. There is also bird-watching,” he says.

The school also has a ratio of teachers to pupils that public schools can only dream of –?one teacher to 10 pupils.

And its alumni are going places, literally.

They are accepted at South Africa’s top universities and routinely get places at European and US institutions.

“About 85% of our boys end up at Stellenbosch or the University of Cape Town?–?10%will go to Rhodes and Wits. The rest go overseas,” says Witherspoon.

But not all the boys at Michaelhouse are from wealthy families.

Witherspoon says about 40% of the school’s pupils are there on bursaries and scholarships.

Hilton principal Peter Ducasse says senior pupils have their own rooms with showers, television sets with DStv, a wireless network and a study.

“This is an incredible environment. We use the outdoors as part of the learning process,” says Ducasse.

Hilton has produced the likes of former Springbok Bobby Skinstad and the late former Chief Justice Arthur Chaskalson.

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