New bill proposes language changes and abolishes initiations at schools in South Africa

 ·7 Dec 2021

The Department of Basic Education has published an explanatory summary of its Basic Education Laws Amendment Bill, which will be published for public comment shortly.

The bill introduces several new regulations around schools in South Africa, most notably additional measures to hold principals, parents and governing bodies accountable for non-attendance.

Other proposals relate to language changes, codes of conduct and governing bodies.

The most significant proposed changes are:

  • Compulsory schooling: The bill states that school attendance will now be compulsory from grade R. Anyone who blocks a child from attending school without just cause – including parents, schools or governing bodies – would be guilty of an offence and face a possible fine and/or imprisonment.
  • Language: The bill will give government department heads more power around the language policies and curriculums that a school must adopt. This head of department may direct a public school to adopt more than one language of instruction, where it is practicable to do so. The bill also recognises South African Sign Language as an official language to learn at a public school.
  • Code of conduct: The bill states that a public school must consider the diverse cultural beliefs, religious observances and medical circumstances of learners at the school. The code of conduct must also include an exemption clause, and disciplinary proceedings must be dealt with in an age-appropriate manner and in the best interests of the learner.
  • Drugs and alcohol: The bill will update the provisions relating to the possession of drugs on school premises or during school activities, and provide for conditions under which liquor may be possessed, sold or consumed on school premises or during school activities.
  • Initiation and corporal punishment: The bill prohibits corporal punishment and initiation practices during school activities and at hostels accommodating school learners.

Read: Meetings to discuss mandatory vaccines at schools in South Africa: report

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