Mpumalanga parents and educationalists who came out to voice their support and concerns around the Basic Education Laws Amendment (Bela) Bill were most interested in the new clause that promises to criminalise the unlawful and intentional interruption or hindrance of any school activity.
The residents shared their views on the bill with the portfolio committee on basic education during the first of three public hearings on it in the province recently.
Those who came out to the hearings, highlighted that the numerous service delivery protests in the area which resulted in the unlawful interruption of school programmes were a major concern to them as they affected teaching and learning negatively.
The proposal to hold the perpetrators liable and be fined or imprisonment for a period not exceeding 12 months, or both a fine and imprisonment was raised as a “proper and adequate” deterrent to such acts.
There was also a view that Clause 35 of the bill was necessary to maintain the integrity of the basic education system in the country as there was a worrying upsurge in illegal and unregistered schools.
The residents said they appreciated and welcomed the stern and harsher punishment which the bill proposed to curb the upward trend of unregistered schools.
Furthermore, the emphasis on the banning of corporal punishment at schools as underlined by the broadening of the definition of corporal punishment was welcomed by some participants. They called for closer monitoring of schools as they claimed that some teachers continued to use corporal punishment notwithstanding its prohibition.
Although the bill enjoyed overwhelming support in Ehlanzeni region, there were calls for the reconsideration of some of its clauses to ensure its effectiveness.
Some participants called for the total scrapping of the clause that proposes the regulation of the possession, or consumption or selling of liquor on school premises especially because of the wrong message it will send to learners in a country where there is a problem of rising substance abuse.
The centralisation of power in the office of the head of the provincial department of basic education which is also proposed by the bill was opposed by the participants.
They said School Governing Bodies (SGBs) remained proper and legitimate governing structures to make a determination on the admission and language policies at their schools.
The participants also highlighted that the South African Schools Act envisioned a collaborative approach between the Department of Basic Education and the SGBs in the governance of schools. However, some told the committee that, that vision of collaboration was being diminished by the Bela Bill.
The committee said it appreciated the qualitative inputs made by members of the public and assured the participants that it was going to consider all their views during its deliberations.
“We are satisfied by the quality of inputs we have received thus far in all public hearings process. We are also satisfied by the process in general in that the hearings have been inclusive and comprehensive,” said Bongiwe Mbinqo-Gigaba, the chairperson of the committee.
“This process has been open to every individual and organisations wishing to make their input and we are hoping to maintain this momentum in all the provinces,” she said.