Public Consultations On Section 51 – How Sincere Was the DBE?

On 15 December 2021 the Basic Education Law Amendments (BELA) Bill was referred to the Portfolio Committee on Basic Education and the Select Committee on Education and Technology, Sport, Arts and Culture, for their information. This means that it is one step closer on a long journey to being signed into law.

The memorandum distributed alongside the BELA Bill states, “(1.7) The version of the Bill that is currently under consideration is the result of the incorporation of many of the commentators’ inputs, many hours of discussions at
task team meetings, countless hours of individual work put in by task team members, and inputs from a variety of officials and other persons who were consulted.”

But how sincere was the DBE in their consultations when the voices of those most affected by the proposed law was ignored?

In 2014/2015 home education associations and activists made presentations to the DBE, Umalusi, and other stakeholders. The focus of the presentations was to set a clear picture of the practice and realities of home education – an education modality that is as different from school/institutional education as a car is from a train. Home education has over a period of more than 2 decades evolved, adapted, and grown into a highly successful and trusted means of education. Representatives from Cape Home Educators (CHE) shared international research confirming the validity and success of home education.  Already during those early discussions, it became clear that government saw consultation as a tick box exercise and that they were firmly set on their course of action.

The BELA Bill was first published for public comments in October 2017. The DBE received just under 5000 written comments, approximately 1000 of which was submitted by home educators who commented on section 51 of the Schools Act.  This is remarkable if one considers that home educated children form around 1% of the total school aged population.  

In a presentation by the DBE to the Portfolio Committee on Basic Education on 28 November 2017, DBE Director General Hubert Mathanzima Mweli described the comments received by the public as “an avalanche”. In his presentation on the intent of and changes to the South African Schools Act, home education received a 2 sentence mention, “Clause 25. An amendment to Section 51 of SASA. The amendment clarifies procedures for home education.”

A member of the Western Cape Education Department (WCED) served on the BELA Bill task team. CHE met with the representative and other WCED officials in a series of meetings to discuss our concerns regarding section 51 of the BELA Bill.  Feedback on these meetings, the letter to MEC Debbie Schäfer, and the survey results we shared with the WCED can be found on our website.

The regulations proposed in the BELA Bill is not in line with the practice and reality of home education. It seeks to restrict home education to school/institutional education at home. Home education is a genie that will not return to the institutional education bottle.  

Despite numerous attempts by home education associations, activists, and the Pestalozzi Trust to inform government officials (and minister Angie Motshekga) of the flaws in the proposed regulations and despite us offering practical, implementable alternatives that will provide government with the certainty that home educated children are receiving quality basic education, our voice has been ignored. No substantive changes were made. Compared to the 2017 version, the current draft is even more restrictive and will cause more friction between home educators and the DBE and Provincial Education Departments and increase the administrative and financial burden of families and education departments.

It appears that the consultation process was a sham.

The 2017 version of the BELA Bill is available here.
The current (December 2021) version can be downloaded by clicking on the download button in the grey bar.

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