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BELA Bill: Outdated Bill also breaches the 1994-agreement

(Budget vote debate in Parliament: Basic Education)

This link https://forms.gle/fUDpmpnn7KEebYxV8 affords one the opportunity to voice an opinion on the so-called BELA Bill.

Amid an ongoing educational crisis in South Africa, a ray of hope is highly professional teachers who see their career as a calling and not just a way to earn a living.

This is not true for the entire educational workforce in South Africa, however, we must all credit those teachers who manage extramural activities and even feeding schemes in addition to their academic work.

These teachers are the ones whose trade unions usually reflect the nature of professional associations, rather than trade unions.

This year, the consideration of the budget for Basic Education is overshadowed by the Basic Education Laws Amendment Bill (generally referred to as the BELA Bill).

That is because this Bill is not only outdated before it has been promulgated, but also because it removes an important cornerstone of the 1994 agreement.

The outdated nature of the Bill stems from the fact that it recognises only three types of schools: Home-schools, independent schools and public schools.

And for the first nine grades only one curriculum is recognised – the official South African Curriculum Statement. The Bill does not differ from the Schools Act of 1996 in that regard. The reality is, however, fundamentally different.

The internet opens up an entire network of international education providers. Micro and online schools provide good quality education, but in this regulatory framework, they are invisible or even illegal.

It is incomprehensible that the Department wants to pass a Bill in 2022 that fails to take the gradual changes since 1996, or the educational revolution brought on by the lockdown, into account.

To understand its influence on the agreement of 1994, one needs to look back to the past.

Education was an important bone of contention in almost all negotiations since 1991. In fact, the NP government and the ANC brought opposite plans to the table.

For the former government, group rights were to form part of the new dispensation. But the ANC was unwavering in its insistence on a one-person one-vote democracy in a united South Africa.

The ANC conceded the nationalising of land, mines and banks while the NP conceded that group rights will be exercised by means of individual rights.

With regard to education, the assumption was that there would be no distinction in learning content or the funding of schools, but that communities would have control over the management of their own schools.

So, state schools became public schools under the control of school governing bodies. Determining schools' admission policies, medium of instruction, religious practices and code of conduct was up to them, on condition that there is no discrimination.

This educational compromise seemed to have worked. Afrikaans schools still looked and sounded the same even though learning content was determined by the ANC government.

Schools where teachers are represented by trade unions, like the South African Teachers' Union, are usually also characterised by parent communities who do more than their part to ensure that the schools are run successfully.

The gap between these schools and others, with poorer work ethics, has widened significantly.

Under the new Bill, provincial departments of education that are already struggling to get everything done must take over crucial functions of school governing bodies.

This is so that control over the visible nature of schools can be taken away from communities and given to the government.

It is important for communities to affirm their control over education. The parliamentary Portfolio Committee is busy with a public participation process on the Bill, which ends on 15 June at 16:00.

Public hearings will follow after that. The link at the top of this statement takes one to a form where each and every one can voice their opinion. These comments will be put together by the FF Plus and submitted to the Committee.

Communities have already shouldered the responsibility for education. Now it is time to reaffirm the right to exercise that responsibility.


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