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Amanzimtoti parents reject education bill

Although the BELA Bill seeks to make all schools accessible to all ethnic groups and language groups, parents are concerned that they will have no control over their choices on curriculum, especially those who are home educators and whose children attend private or religious schools.

A BILL that seeks to make drastic changes in the governance of schools and homeschooling, once it is passed into law, has been strongly rejected by some Amanzimtoti parents who picketed against it on May 16.

The Basic Education Laws Amendment (BELA) Bill has been widely condemned as it has been seen as a tool that will take away the school governing bodies’ and communities’ ability to decide what is right for their children.

The parents whom the SUN spoke with said the head of department (HOD) will now have the final say on a school’s language, admission and code-of-conduct policies, stripping away the powers of the parents and the school governing bodies (SGB).

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“The HOD may decide to withdraw one or more functions of an SGB or even dissolve it completely and replace it entirely with its members on ‘reasonable grounds’, however, these ‘grounds’ are nowhere stipulated and can be interpreted by the HOD in any way they want,” said Chanell Haggard, who picketed with other parents in Arbour Crossing.

The bill also seeks to make Grade R compulsory for all children.

“Though this might seem like a good thing initially, it may impact especially informal early childhood development centres negatively, as well as the fact that some of these children are simply too emotionally immature and not psychologically equipped to deal with the rules and systems that go with institutional education,” she said.

She also said it unconstitutionally limits parents’ choices on curriculum, especially home educators and private or religious schools, by mandating that they cover the content and skills of the National Curriculum Statement which includes the National Curriculum and Assessment Policy Statement (CAPS).

“A big issue for a lot of parents is the inclusion of the comprehensive sexuality education covered in the CAPS subjects of life skills or life orientation,” said Haggard.

She added that what was most troubling was that most parents were not aware of the bill. According to the bill, parents and teachers who contravene it once it is law will face fines or imprisonment.

In response, James Ndlebe, the chief director for planning and implementation support in the Department of Basic Education, said the BELA Bill seeks to strengthen school governance by tightening certain sections which have created challenges for the sector.

“It cannot be correct that SGBs are given unlimited and unchecked powers and have a final say in a school matter which is a public school. No grouping can have absolute power and account to no one in a democratic and sovereign state,” said Ndlebe.

He said the bill provides for intervention steps that the HOD should take when confronted with discriminatory language or admission policy without imposing his authority unlawfully.

“It should be noted that this is not a battle against a particular language grouping. It is a countrywide challenge where schools are built along ethnic groups. Now that there is a racial and ethnic mix in all communities, some children are still unable to access schools in their neighbourhoods because they have been designated to serve a particular ethnic group,” he said.



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