The African Christian Democratic Party yesterday opposed the motion of desirability of the BELA Bill as adopted by the Portfolio Committee on Basic Education in its final day of deliberations.
ACDP Member of Parliament, Marie Sukers particularly highlighted during deliberations the public’s opposition of clause 37 that deals with homeschooling, clause 41 that gives the Minister powers to issue regulations on learner pregnancy, and clause 27 which deals with the merger and closure of small schools.
Communities, throughout the public hearings in the nine provinces, called for clauses, 27, 37 and 41 to be removed. Clause 37 on homeschooling was roundly rejected by homeschoolers, and calls were made to the Department of Basic Education (DBE) for a comprehensive Social Environmental Impact Assessment to be undertaken – one that is focused on homeschooling. By the Departments own admission there has been no research on homeschooling, and Mr James Ndhlebe, of the DBE, in his response defended the number of consultations undertaken by the Department with homeschoolers. What is however clear is that the number of consultations cited did little to improve the Department’s own understanding of homeschoolers – if consultations were effective, a proposal that would satisfy both stakeholders could have been developed and included in this Bill.
After the deliberations on clause 37, Parliamentary Legal Services responded to the Committee yesterday, saying that they will be redrafting this clause. The DBE yesterday made a number of concessions, that is an improvement, but that would be seen as slow progress by a community who feels constantly under siege, and that their rights as parents, to decide on the education of their children, will be undermined by the Department’s regulations.
Mr Ndlebe further made more concessions, on the record, in response to the deliberations: going back to assessments 3 times in a learner’s compulsory schooling career, modifying home visits to be conducted only when needed, and that assessments could be done in a different location, in addition to adding education psychologists or similar professions to the list of assessors. He also indicated that a degree of freedom in assessment would be allowed.
The specific mention of countries that outlaws homeschooling, by Parliamentary Legal Services, during the deliberations on the clause, will add to the fear of homeschoolers that the state seeks to make homeschooling unaffordable with stricter controls to limit homeschooling.
The comments made by members of the ruling party during the deliberations will do little to build trust with this community of parents, and shows how much work must be done to advocate for this segment of the education sector.
Marie Sukers highlighted that senior officials of the DBE, who participated in public hearings, to support the legislation, showed an extremely poor understanding of homeschooling. This, again, puts in the spotlight the consultations with homeschoolers – are the value and principles that drives homeschooling parents understood and respected by bureaucrats who works in a singular system?
In our view, the BELA Bill is an administration Bill that would further bloat the State. This would leave less money to keep rural schools open and to provide stipends to SGB’s from schools in Quintile 1-3, critical issues that were raised in our rural communities.
The assertion that it may seem that the ACDP is calling for SGB stipends as an election ploy is ironic given the culture of some parties who hand out food parcels before elections.
For the ACDP, caring for the poor must be demonstrated by not creating a bloated State, as would happen if this Bill becomes law, but by funding rural education programmes to keep small schools open. This would keep rural children in their communities for as long as possible. The impact of school closures is far reaching. The implementation of clause 27 would escalate the closure of hundreds of schools in rural communities across the country leading to emotional alienation, and anxiety in children who, at a very young age, must go to hostels far from their communities.
The BELA Bill is bureaucratic and will only create further bloat, it is in its current form not child centered.