The progress made with the public participation process regarding the Basic Education Laws Amendment Bill (BELA Bill) was reported to the parliamentary Portfolio Committee today.
The process has not yet commenced seeing as quotations for marketing are still outstanding. Nonetheless, public hearings have been scheduled until March 2023 and after that, the Bill must still be debated in all nine provincial legislatures.
Seeing as the Bill is already outdated, these costs must rather be saved until the Bill has been fundamentally revised.
The problems with the Bill are both practical and ideological in nature. Ideologically speaking, the ability to manage education is being taken out of the hands of communities and placed in the hands of officials.
Practically speaking, alternative forms of education, like micro-schools, online schools and the various combinations of these with traditional schools, are overlooked entirely in the Bill. And that is why it can be labelled as outdated.
While waiting for the Portfolio Committee to get its process going, parents and other stakeholders can support the FF Plus's action against the legislative amendment by visiting the following link: (https://forms.gle/fUDpmpnn7KEebYxV8). The Bill's full text can be accessed here: (https://www.parliament.gov.za/bill/2300398)
Meanwhile, the FF Plus suggested in today’s meeting that the Portfolio Committee must first thoroughly discuss the Bill clause by clause so that the necessary changes can be made.
The sections dealing with home-schools, for instance, must be removed so that a separate law can regulate the practice of alternative education. It seems, however, that the ANC members want to proceed with the current process.
The FF Plus still maintains that we must ring the bell about the BELA Bill.
BELA Bill: Meddling with the agreement of 1994
Dr Wynand Boshoff: FF Plus MP and chief spokesperson for Basic Education
The Basic Education Laws Amendment Bill (BELA Bill) is currently in process. It was published for the first time in 2017 and went through the required public participation process at the time.
Amendments were made based on the initial process and the Bill was tabled in the parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Education late last year. The Committee has, however, decided to undertake another public participation process because the matter is so controversial.
But why is it so controversial?
In this regard, the spotlight falls on the functions and powers of school governing bodies (SGB) in particular. At present, governing bodies are able to determine the language policy, admission policy and code of conduct of a school. But should this Bill be made law, the provincial Head of Department will do so.
Another aspect, which we could probably describe using the already overloaded word "alternative", is also important: Home-schools is a familiar concept and during the recent lockdown period, online classes suddenly became a general occurrence as well – even online schools. Then there are also micro-schools, where a few families run a home-school together or gather more formally to educate their children.
For some people residing in rural areas, one of these "alternative" ways to educate oftentimes means the difference between their children growing up in a homey environment or having to go to a hostel in a faraway town at a very early age. And if it depends on the Bill, it could be as young as five years old – because grade R will become compulsory.
For other people residing right across a sought-after school, the "alternative" forms of education are also important. These parents may believe in very different forms of education where schools with regimented grades and demarcated subjects make way for learning through doing; where the entire world is one's classroom.
Or maybe they are not quite as avant-garde or progressive, but they prefer foreign qualifications and curricula above the ideologically driven curriculum statement of the South African Department of Basic Education.
The point is, these alternatives are a reality for tens of thousands of children of school age. However, in terms of the Bill, they do not exist as only three forms of education are recognised: Public schools, independent schools and home-schools.
Public schools are not required to register at or become accredited with a regulatory body seeing as it is the Department's own school. Pit latrines, leaking roofs and all. Independent schools are strictly regulated by Umalusi, which means that everything must be tip top. From soap at basins with warm and cold water taps in bathrooms (and not too many children in relation to the number of toilets), to a policy for every possible event; meticulously filed and close at hand.
Home-schools are also required to register. According to the Bill, it is not so much registering as much as obtaining a licence. Two families who run a home-school together are no longer a home-school, but an independent school. That is how things will work if this Bill is passed.
Then all the documentation and facilities required of a full-scale independent school will be required of these two families as well.
The drafters of the Bill may not have thought of "alternative" education in this way. Or maybe they did not even think about it at all. And that is the second problem that draws a lot of attention: The Bill is already outdated before it has been enacted.
And then there is something else, which drew very little attention thus far: This Bill meddles with the political agreement of 1994, unravelling it even further. In the words of Professor Koos Malan, an expert in the field of public law: "It amends the country's constitution without touching the Constitution."
During the negotiations of the 90s, "community life" was considered an important matter. In 1992, the NP even had the confidence to promise "Own schools, Own neighbourhoods" on a referendum poster. In the end, they abandoned their insistence on "minority rights", seeing as "individual rights are the best guarantee for minority rights". With those words, the people were encouraged to vote NP in 1994 – and most Afrikaners did.
Realising the idea of "own neighbourhoods" was a lost cause right from the start, but there was more success with "own schools". It worked like this:
There had to be only one school system with equal expenditure on schools and one curriculum. One concession, however, was that each community could have control over its school. So, the South African Schools Act of 1996 did not refer to state and private schools, but to public and independent schools.
A public school's land and buildings belonged to the government, teachers were appointed by the government based on a numbers-based formula, and there was only one national curriculum, but otherwise, the school governing body basically had full power to determine what happens in a school and what it costs to attend it.
And so, a completely new educational culture took root in South Africa, one where schools used, in addition to their level of sport and academic performance, their "ethos", "culture" and "values" to attract children (nowadays also known as learners, or maybe even clients). The mix between cultural, educational and commercial considerations certainly resulted in some exceptional schools.
The community served by the school and filling its school benches was no longer geographical, as before, neither was it race based, instead, it is based on what one wants and whether one can afford it. It is as close as one can get to "own schools", and the new South Africa seemed close enough to the old to be easy to swallow, so even the intransigents later reconciled themselves with the new dispensation.
Thus, the extended powers of school governing bodies formed an important part of the 1994-agreement. And that is what the BELA Bill will change. The government has grown tired of school governing bodies using government funds to do their own thing (even though these funds are generously supplemented with schools' own resources and are generally managed exceptionally well).
That is why the power to make all the important decisions is being given to the Head of Department, and the school governing body is left with being able to decide whether to sell pancakes or hamburgers at the school fair. That is the agreement that is being broken.
Many people talk about a follow-up agreement. They must pay close attention: That follow-up agreement is busy unfolding before our very eyes. And it is not an improvement.