Bela policies ‘will be difficult to implement’

Grade R will be made compulsory. Picture: Independent Newspapers Archive

Grade R will be made compulsory. Picture: Independent Newspapers Archive

Published Jan 5, 2024


The KwaZulu-Natal parents association has warned that some of the changes proposed in the Basic Education Law Amendment (Bela) Bill would be impossible to implement and could be detrimental to pupils’ welfare.

The bill is out for public comment, a process expected to be completed in the coming weeks. It has proposed a raft of measures to ensure that children’s rights to education are protected.

Changes include that Grade R will be made compulsory. It also amends the penalty provision in the case where the parent of a pupil, or any other person, without just cause, prevents a pupil who is subject to compulsory attendance from attending school.

It provides too that the governing body of a public school must submit the admission and language policies of the public school to the head of department for approval. It empowers the head of department to direct a public school to adopt more than one language of instruction.

The bill compels a member of a governing body to declare a direct or indirect personal interest he, she or a family member may have in the recruitment or employment of staff at a public school.

If the bill is passed into law, only a parent member of a governing body who is not employed by the public school may serve as chairperson of the finance committee.

The bill calls for further regulation of home schooling. The head of department may require a delegated official to conduct a pre-registration home education site visit and consultation with the parents and pupil, to verify information in the application documentation and to provide support, where necessary, with the application process.

Vee Gani of the KZN Parents Association said the changes, while necessary to ensure a child is not deprived of formal education, do not take into account that there could be extenuating circumstances for a child not being at school.

He said one of the controversial changes was the imposing of a jail term on a parent or guardian if a child is not at school. He said this could be impossible to implement and might have negative consequences for a child if parents or guardians are imprisoned.

Gani said failure to ensure a child of school-going age is at school has always been an offence.

“It’s the penalties that are now severe, a fine or imprisonment. My issue is with the severity of the punishment,” Gani said, adding that “it’s difficult to see how increasing the sentence will address the problem”.

Matakanye Matakanya, of the National Association of School Governing Bodies, said there were areas of the bill they agree with and support, such as the policies on language and admission, home schooling and Grade Rs.

Alana Bailey, head of Cultural Affairs at AfriForum, said the pronouncements around language concern them most. She said AfriForum believes that school communities should have the final say about language policies in their respective schools, and not “political appointments with their own agendas”.

“The department alleges to hold mother language education in high esteem, but in a country where 11 of the 12 official languages have to compete with number 12 (English, a major international language), the 11 will eventually be swallowed up by the major language.”

“More single-medium mother-language institutions are the answer, but our DBE has proven time and again that that is not on their agenda. If we leave the decision in their hands, South Africa may lose all our indigenous languages with the whole knowledge system that accompanies them – it will be a tragedy both culturally, but definitely also economically,” she said.

The public can email comments to Noluthando Skaka at [email protected] by January 19 at 4pm.

The Mercury