Can the school charge me for loaned textbooks?

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Photo by Kimberly Farmer on Unsplash
Photo by Kimberly Farmer on Unsplash

It's no secret that too many South African schools are under-funded, and that to make up for this shortfall schools have to get creative.

However, from annual 're-registration' fees to fund raising events to charging to borrow required textbooks, parents can feel like they're being taken advantage of. 

This father wrote to ask about a particularly annoying extra expense: the exorbitant cost required to 'loan' textbooks for the year.  

"My kids are in a high school in Durban. I would like to find out if it's legal for the school to charge us an additional fee for textbooks on top of paying the school fees?

And if you don't pay the book fees they refuse to give the kids any textbooks.

I believe a portion of the school fees are for textbooks, and that schools get subsidised by the government for each child.

I don't mind paying, but every year they give us dilapidated books that are falling apart but they're collecting many thousands of rands a year for the book fees." 

Parent24 spoke to Sue Larkan, a parents' rights activist and founder of Tabansi, an organisation that helps parents navigate school rules, who explained how this system is supposed to work.

Also read: Withholding school reports, for any reason, is against the law 

Not permitted 

"Public schools receive a budget from the Department of Education for text books and the learner is loaned that book for the year," she says. 

The parent will be liable (billed for the costs) if the learner damages or loses the textbook or any learning materials the school supplied, but non-refundable deposits are not permitted.

No learner may be refused learning materials if the parent cannot afford whatever the school had decided to charge. 

"Parents are expected to pay for work books that the school supplies, but have the right to purchase stationary wherever they please, and the school cannot insist they purchase the stationery packs through the school," she says. 

Another option available to parents is to purchase textbooks outright, and then sell them second hand at the end of year. 

It is worth noting that if you cannot return the textbooks, or pay to replace them at the end of the year, you must speak to the school and work something out. The school however cannot withhold the child's report card until the books are returned or paid for. 

Increasing fees 

Larkan says "Although textbooks constitute a significant factor in education costs, the fragmented procurement of goods and services shows that there is a need at provincial level to look at the possible integration of individual school orders into bulk orders to secure better prices, especially for the section 21 schools(fee paying schools)."    

School fees have risen sharply in some section 21 schools, and this is spiraling out of control, she adds.

"The SGBs are loading all costs, as if they are private entities, onto the parents' accounts, and they continue to hire educators, which also adds to the cost of education," she says.  

According to Larkan, it seems that over time it is becoming that only the wealthy can afford education and will have access to education. 

"Yet even the more wealthy families are finding that they cannot afford the average three children household education cost, at about R2000.00 per month per child," she adds. 

Larkan says that parents needs to consult with the School Governing Body (SGB) if they cannot afford fees requested.  

If your school won't answer your questions or assist you, you can contact your nearest Education District office here. 


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