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Education: What comes after BELA?

With general resistance against the Basic Education Laws Amendment (BELA) Bill mounting, the question of what should replace it remains. After all, the Schools Act, which currently regulates this dynamic sector, was adopted in 1996 already.

The answer lies in devolving decision-making to the lowest level possible, and separating the Department’s roles of service provider and regulator.

The diversity in education has never been as obvious as with the opportunities for public participation regarding the so-called BELA Bill.

Schools have vastly different needs, homeschools have divergent educational frameworks, and the central role fulfilled by internet-based resources was particularly prominent.

The new law either oppresses or ignores this diversity. If it were not for the trade union members of the COSATU-affiliated South African Democratic Teachers Union (SADTU) and provincial departments’ officials, public support for the Bill would have been much less.

If the Bill remains in the pipeline until after next year’s elections, it will have to be tabled again – ten years after it was first introduced.

Clearly, it would be better to rather draft an entirely new law.

Such a bill must grant public schools as much independence as possible – also with regard to curriculum choices. It will free up resources to exercise more stringent control over schools that are not up to standard.

An independent education regulator must be created, similar to the current energy and communications authorities. The role of Umalusi, the current quality controller, can be expanded for that purpose.

Provincial educational departments will then become no more than service providers for public schools, with no authority relating to independent and homeschools.

A new legal framework must recognise and entrench parents and the community’s decisive role in education, while the state only offers support when needed.

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