From our first meeting with Minister Schäfer, we set out to establish a working consultative relationship built on mutual trust between CHE and the WCED. We wanted to understand the concerns the WCED, and the DBE have regarding home education and repeatedly asked for a list of the concerns that the department officials and the BELA Bill task team are trying to address through legislation. We unfortunately never received this list. This made it difficult to discuss alternative solutions in the following meetings, but we used the opportunities to raise our concerns with the BELA bill.
Our engagement with the WCED was not to give any form of legitimacy to any regulations pertaining to home education, but to alert them to the fact that current legislation should be retracted, and the proposed legislation should be redrafted to not only fairly reflect the practice of home education, but to also be implementable.
Our view is that the DBE should consider more than a total revision of Section 51 of the BELA Bill. It is not only Section 51 that is the problem. The fact that home education, a system that is totally different from school education, is regulated in the South African Schools Act (SASA) creates a situation that is like regulating bicycle transport in the trains act. We asked for a total review of the entire education regulatory framework so that it makes ample provision for education that is outside of the school system.
Research findings obtained from the Impact of the BELA Bill survey were shared with delegates from the WCED and we gave evidence why the requirements set out in the BELA Bill do not touch base with the practice of home education. We pointed out that the proposed regulations are in direct conflict with the philosophy and pedagogy of home education and highlighted that the bill creates serious misgivings and raises reasonable doubt about whether Section 51 will be practically implementable.
We presented research on alternative education in the hopes that it will be easier for learning centres, cottage schools and alternative education centres to register with the WCED. Small schools and centres are not home education, but they offer a service to the home education community, especially in providing learning assistance (tutors) and as a way to transition from home education to the school system.
Adv. Sarah Pudifin-Jones presented a legal opinion on home visits as we questioned how this requirement would infringe upon the constitutional right to privacy.
In our meetings, we asked that instead of using a legal solution to solve an educational problem we jointly craft an educational solution based on thorough research. Together we should work on a policy that is research led.
Throughout, our goal was to encourage the department to realise that Section 51 of the BELA Bill cannot be fixed with small amendments, as it is fundamentally flawed because it was not based upon research on home education. It is our opinion that SASA is not the appropriate act within which to regulate home education and that all regulations pertaining to home education should be disregarded and an alternative regulatory framework be drafted after thorough research and in consultation with home educators.
The Liberty in Learning Coalition and several other home educators have already workshopped alternative regulatory frameworks and would be very happy to work with the department should this become an option they are willing to investigate.
The education landscape changed fundamentally since 2020. Covid-19 brought disruption and uncertainty, but it also brought a new perspective and opportunity for change. The traditional school system could not realise the right to a basic education. Some schools scrambled to devise ways in which to continue to provide a basic education and Zoom classes, online schools, educational YouTube channels, and tutoring apps came to the fore. Others had to close their doors and hope to be able to catch up when the situation improves. Home education on the other hand, with its flexible curricula and approaches could weather the storm and with a few quick adaptations, continued to provide learners with a basic education.
It was the innovations tried and tested for distance education and home education that became solutions to the problems of the mainstream system. Therefore, home education, as an incubator for innovation and improvement should not be tied and restricted to fit into the traditional school system, merely for the convenience of administrators!
We hope that our engagement with the WCED will have an impact on the education sector. And we trust that this series of meetings will have a positive effect on legislation pertaining to home education. If engagement does not lead to change it is not engagement at all.