Positive moves in Bela bill debated

Published Mar 18, 2024


Education expert Professor Mary Metcalfe, the Parents’ Association of KwaZulu-Natal and school governing body associations (SGBs) have welcomed the promotion of cultural diversity and the language policy initiative of the Basic Education Laws

Amendment (Bela) Bill. A discussion on the bill was held at the Mandela Youth Centre in Chatsworth on Saturday.

Metcalfe said that the Bela Bill would create more accountability regarding how the provincial education department and the Department of Basic Education (DBE) utilise funds for public schools.

She added the bill also aimed to refine the code of conduct in schools.

“The code is about education and it has to improve the purposeful, disciplined environment for teaching and learning in schools and takes into account differences of cultural and religious observances.”

“There are changes with language policy with Bela. In the South African Schools Act 1996 the minister sets norms and standards for language policy and the SGB may determine the language policy, provided there is no form of unfair discrimination. With

Bela the SGB must submit its language policy to the head of department (for approval. The head may approve the policy or may return it to the SGB with recommendations, together with reasons,” said Metcalfe.

Metcalfe said that the department head must take into account language needs of the broader community and the best interests of the child.

“The SGB still has the power to appeal to the MEC against the decision within 14 days if not satisfied with the outcome.”

James Ndlebe, director of School Management and Governance Development at the DBE said the department was not taking away the powers of the SGB to determine language policy.

“The SBG can’t determine language policy, be a judge and a referee all at the same time. There must be somebody to assist and if you look at the Constitution there is somebody who is the head of department.”

Ndlebe added that the powers to determine language policy was still with the SGB.

“All we want is that the language policy is not discriminatory in any way and is taking care of the changing demographics in the country. We also need to include communities when making decisions on languages in schools.”

“The other clause that we are looking at is the money that is meant for public schools, we used to ask for financial reports every 18 months. We are now asking for financial reports for income and expenditure quarterly so that we can deal with irregularities.”

Hetta Müller, provincial manager for the Federation of Governing Bodies of South African Schools said infrastructure needs had to be addressed and more schools needed to be built.

Vee Gani, chairperson of the Parents’ Association in KZN, said that there were things in the Bela bill that were welcomed including making Grade R compulsory.

Gani added that he also welcomed the language policy amendment.

“We have to understand that pupils, the majority that speak Zulu, can’t be taught in English or Afrikaans so it is important for Zulu to be introduced. We also welcome the observance of cultural and religious belief amendments that will allow for example Muslim male pupils to have a beard or Hindu pupils being allowed to wear a red string as part of their religion.”

Dr Erna de Lange from the Governing Body Foundation said that there was a problem with admissions of pupils in schools.

“There is not enough space and the thing is not every parent will be able to send their children to their school of choice because of space. In terms of language policy I believe that there should always be a choice and if there is consultation we can work through it. I just want to point out that it’s difficult to see the Department of Education coming back to us speedily if there are any objections to language policy.”

The Mercury