The National Council of Province’s Select Committee on Education and Technology, Sports, Arts and Culture has opened the Basic Education Laws Amendment Bill for public comment.
The National Assembly approved the highly contentious Bill in October after it was adopted by the Portfolio Committee on Basic Education on 26 September.
The Bill seeks to, among other things, make Grade R compulsory, abolish corporal punishment, create financial and accountability frameworks for governing bodies and provincial departments, and give the government control over the admission and language policies of schools.
Despite still not being signed into law by President Ramaphsoa, the Bill is already facing legal challenges, with the provisions giving the government the final say on language and admission policies facing the most controversy.
As per the language policy, the Bill states that a school governing body will be required to submit the language of a public school and any amendment thereof to the head of the department for approval.
Although the Bill held public hearings on the Bill across all nine provinces, received written submissions and had public hearings at Parliament, critics of the Bill state that it is unconstitutional by ignoring thousands of comments against the language provision in the new Bill.
Trade union Solidarity has already threatened legal action, arguing that the laws pose a threat to African and mother tongue education.
“While we support educational reform, we will not support a Bill that disempowers schools, parents, and communities and fails to address a single one of the systemic challenges that impede quality education, like overcrowding, poor literacy and numeracy, dropouts, terrible school infrastructure, poor quality teaching, and lack of resources,” the DA added.
The opposition party said that 5% of Afrikaans schools are being scapegoated for the government’s failure to provide quality education in all schools regardless of a child’s geographical location, race, religion, or language.
The Bill has already been altered after public consultation, with the Department of Basic Education dropping the clause allowing South African schools to sell alcohol after hours. The portfolio committee on basic education said that the clause received the most opposition during public hearings.