New laws for schools in South Africa back in the hot seat

 ·27 Apr 2023

Public consultation for the Basic Education Laws Amendment Bill (BELA Bill) will resume next month, 5 May 2023, according to the parliamentary portfolio committee on basic education.

Alana Bailey, the head of cultural affairs at AfriForum, said that further consultation on the bill is welcomed.

She said that the bill comprises articles that pose a significant threat to the future of quality education in South Africa in general, specifically the admission and language policies.

“Currently, the final decision about these policies rests with schools’ governing bodies, but the bill states that the final decisions in this regard will be the responsibility of the provincial heads of education.”

“This means a centralisation of power in the hands of the state, at the expense of communities’ right to decide for themselves about their children’s and schools’ interests,” said Bailey.

Broadly the BELA Bill seeks to make a host of changes to schools across the country, including but not limited to the starting age for children and the aim to formalise home education and the financial administration of schools.

The bill also contains controversial elements, including giving the government authority over language policies and allowing schools to sell alcohol during after-hours, non-school-related activities.

Further amendments include:

  • Making grade R the new compulsory school starting age, as opposed to grade 1, as is currently the case.
  • Forcing homeschooled learners to be registered for this type of schooling.
  • Criminalising parents who do not ensure their child or children are in school, with fines or jail time up to 12 months.
  • Holding school governing bodies more accountable for disclosures of financial interests – including those related to their spouses and family members.
  • Prohibiting educators from conducting business with the state or being a director of public or private companies conducting business with the state.
  • Abolishing corporal punishment and initiation/hazing practices.
  • Allowing schools to sell alcohol outside of school hours.
  • Giving government department heads power over language policies and the curriculums a school must adopt.

Pushback to the bill stems as far back as December last year when feedback to the proposed changes was largely negative, with over 18,000 written submissions being made to the Department of Basic Education.

The committee had previously held public hearings on the bill in November last year as well as in February this year.

Afriforum said resuming the public hearings will give members of the public the opportunity to voice their support or concern over the bill.

The union said that they are of the opinion that it would be better to scrap the entire concept and revise existing school legislation from scratch.

Bailey said that the field of education had changed profoundly in recent years, thanks to new learning patterns that have been established during the Covid-19 restrictions, technology that has developed along with it and issues such as language rights that are being understood more comprehensively.

“Now is the time to rethink school legislation and to come up with new proposals, rather than wasting more time and resources on this ideologically charged, unconstitutional and outdated draft,” said the head of cultural affairs at Afrifourm.

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