The Department of Social Development has handed over the responsibility of early childhood development to the Department of Basic Education, paving the way for earlier schooling in South Africa.
Two years of early childhood development (ECD) is set to become compulsory for all children before they enter the formal school system in grade one, said social development minister Lindiwe Zulu at a handover event on Friday (1 April).
Zulu said the move is expected to improve education and jobs outcomes in the country as students spend longer in school and have more exposure to basic skills such as reading and arithmetic.
“The latest employment data is painting a picture that says unemployment has climbed to 35.3% in the fourth quarter of 2021. The migration of the ECD function from Social Development to Basic Education should serve as a means by which we definitively challenge this jobs’ market narrative,” she said.
“Resulting from this handover should be an increase of our collective investments in the foundation of the prospects of South Africa’s children. This is the opportunity to start dismantling inter-generational poverty among all our people.”
The compulsory schooling change is included in the draft Basic Education Laws Amendment (BELA) bill alongside a raft of other changes.
The draft bill states that school attendance in South Africa will be compulsory from grade R and no longer only from grade 1. Despite the age at which school attendance is compulsory, a parent may, if they so wish and subject to a few conditions, enrol a child at a school to start attending grade R at a younger age.
Some of the key proposals in the bill include:
- Compulsory attendance: Stricter punishments will be introduced for parents who fail to ensure their children attend school, including jail time and/or a fine of up to 12 months.
- Absenteeism: The bill states that teachers, principals and school governing bodies must take responsibility and accountability for learners that are within their school community by ascertaining the whereabouts of a learner who is absent from school for a period of more than three days without a valid reason.
- Corporal punishment: Corporal punishment is abolished and no person may inflict or impose corporal punishment to a learner at a school, during a school activity, or in a hostel accommodating learners of a school.
- Initiation practices: The bill prohibits initiation practices in a hostel accommodating learners, and during a school activity.
- Governing body disclosures: Members of a school governing body, like other public officials, will be required tp disclose on an annual basis their financial interests and the financial interests of their spouse, partner and immediate family members.
- Homeschooling: The bill introduces further clarity around home-schooling, including that South African learners may be educated at home only if they are registered for such education.
- Business with the state: The bill will prohibit educators from conducting business with the state or from being a director of a public or private company conducting business with the state, and creates an offence should an educator contravene the abovementioned provision.