The ANC’s latest assault on education

Chris Patterson | Jul 02, 2022
The BELA Bill does not address key issues in basic education but rather actively undermines the power of communities to make decisions in the best interest of their children.

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The ANC’s latest assault on education

The Basic Education Laws Amendment Bill (BELA Bill) is piece of ANC legislation that endangers the future of South African schools, and your #FreedomtoLEARN.

The latest iteration BELA Bill, now makings its way through Parliament, will attempt to centralise decision-making. This is a theme of ANC policy-making, highlighted time and again by my colleagues. In the case of the BELA Bill, it hits home, especially so for our youth.

Undermining School Governing Bodies

Schooling is the foundation of any society; it forms the basis of human development and growth. The BELA Bill, introduced in the National Assembly this year, seeks to make far-reaching changes to education. These include but are not limited to amending Sections 5 & 6 of the South African Schools Act of 1996 to allow provincial education heads (HoDs) to override School Governing Bodies (SGBs) on matters such as admission policy, which forms part of the core functions of SGBs. An HoD needs only to consult the SGB in question on any change. No detail is given as to what constitutes a suitable degree of consultation.

Consultation with the SGB does not appear to be given any higher priority than this astonishing sentence, taken directly from the Bill;

"the Head of Department, when considering the admission policy or any amendment thereof for approval, must be satisfied that it considers the needs, in general, of the broader community."

Communities across this country differ in size, whether it is in rural or suburban areas, and even within those suburban areas, there are differences in the size of schools. For example, a school with 100 learners may be at capacity in District A, but in District B just down the road from a prospective applicant, a school with 85 learners may also be at capacity, as that may be all the space that the SGB at the District B school has. A logical conclusion cannot be that a provincial HoD knows more about ‘community needs’ that the local SGB of the school in question.

Hijacking language policies

Another crucial and controversial section of the BELA Bill deals with language policy. As with admissions policy, a school’s language policy can be essentially hijacked by a provincial HoD, again, after only ‘consulting’ the school community.

This aspect of the draft law is critical, especially in light of the controversy over Afrikaans-medium instruction in Gauteng schools, with Education MEC Panyaza Lesufi, for example, routinely accusing Afrikaans-medium schools of racism and a lack of ‘transformation’, despite, in one telling case, the school not having the resources to accommodate English-language students.

The High Court found in favour of the SGB at Hoërskool Overvaal, an Afrikaans medium school, setting aside a Gauteng department of education instruction to the school to admit 55 learners to be taught in English.

The court agreed that the SGB had successfully argued that it could not make the requested changes by the Gauteng Department of Education. In response to the judgment, however, Lesufi reportedly stated that the school’s language policies were ‘malignant’ and ‘the very essence of racism’.

The Constitution protects the right to use any of the official languages, and specifically states in Section 29(2):

“Everyone has the right to receive education in the official language or languages of their choice in public educational institutions where that education is reasonably practicable.” 

National Government argues in its Socio-Economic Impact Assessment (SEIA) Report that Overvaal is a contributing factor to the exclusion of students based on admissions and language policy, not considering their own legislation and the Constitution which states that it must be ‘reasonably practicable’ for a school to make changes. This Bill stands as the ultimate tool in breaking down the long-standing relationship between provincial education departments and SGBs.

Not in the interest of parents and children

Education sector civil society groups do not seem to believe that the Department of Basic Education is doing the right thing.

Johnell von Vollenhoven from the Solidarity Research Institute said that ‘the intention of the state is clearly to centralise the education system. The implementation of this amendment bill will have tragic consequences for education communities and the children receiving their education at public schools. Undoubtedly this will ultimately also affect the quality of education.’

The BELA Bill does not address key issues in basic education, particularly the lack of infrastructure and/or the support for learners who, because of schooling deficiencies, struggle to understand key concepts at a primary school level. The widespread lack of textbooks, for example, hinders the development of skills such as critical thinking. Another problem is the insufficient recognition of the importance of early childhood development, and conditions that create a stable home life for young South Africans. The Freedom Advocacy Network’s #FreedomToLEARN campaign is based on the key premise that parents are allowed to choose the best possible school for their child, as well as protecting the representation and rights of parents on SGBs. These fundamentals must not be overridden by education MECs who have political motives in undermining access to education.


This affects families, families whose children count on a good education to have better chances in life. The government’s three most pressing crises – poverty, unemployment and crime – are not stand-alone crises but are a symptom of a large-scale failure in basic education.

This is a societal crisis that the centralised political control envisaged in the new basic education legislation – soon to be put up for public comment by the Portfolio Committee on Basic Education – will fail to address, and will likely only worsen.

 

Cover image source available here.

 

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