Worries over compulsory school changes for South Africa

 ·1 Nov 2022

The Department of Basic Education is in the process of analysing public commentary on the Basic Education Laws Amendment (BELA) Bill, with opposition party, the Democratic Alliance, noting that the overwhelming majority of submissions assessed so far point to serious reservations about the laws – or outright rejection of the bill entirely.

The bill has been slowly passing through parliament since its announcement in 2017 and seeks to introduce changes in schools across the nation, including stricter rules around attendance admissions and language policies.

Some of the key points include:

  • A new starting age: School attendance in South Africa will be compulsory from grade R and no longer only from grade 1.
  • 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.
  • Corporal punishment: Corporal punishment is abolished, and no person may inflict or impose corporal punishment on a learner at a school, during a school activity, or in a hostel accommodating learners of a school.
  • 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 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.

During a parliamentary portfolio committee meeting on basic education, it was revealed that the department received more than 18,000 comments on the bill, of which two-thirds must still be analysed.

However, the DA noted that of the submissions assessed so far, 3,138 completely rejected the bill, 190 had concerns with some of the clauses, and 141 submissions were unspecified. Only 35 submissions supported the Bill.

The concerns raised by the public included several issues, such as

  • The practicality of implementing compulsory Grade R;
  • The disempowering of school governing bodies (SGBs) to determine admissions and language policies;
  • The centralisation of procurement; and
  • The lack of engagement with the homeschooling sector,

“It is clear that the Department has failed to consult widely with the public and education stakeholders. The BELA Bill, in its current form disempowers schools and communities while creating many opportunities for abuse by the minister, MECs and provincial heads of the basic education departments to capture schools,” the DA said.

The party said it will request that National Treasury present the financial implications regarding compulsory grade R to the committee and practically implantable solutions.

“We will also request that the Minister of Basic Education, Angie Motshekga, and her Department present their plans for the regulations of blended and online learning beyond the current draft framework, which is denying many learners home education.”

Read: Big changes coming for schools in South Africa

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