File picture: Independent Media

Durban - Thousands of concerned parents and education stakeholders have written to the Department of Education in protest against the draft Basic Education Laws Amendment Bill (Bela).
The bill has been criticised for limiting the powers of school governing bodies (SGB) in appointing school heads of departments, principals and their deputies.

The bill also seeks to hand control to the department in determining a school’s language policy and also seeks to prevent the disruption of schooling and corruption.

Lawyer and former SGB deputy chairperson at a prominent Durban school, Nonhlanhla Gumede, said she did not believe the bill would pass in its current form. She said the issue of promotions and appointments was concerning even though there were good aspects to the bill.

Gumede said the department had to be commended for recognising the need to mete out harsher penalties to parents who prevented pupils from attending school and also to punish others who disrupted schooling activities.

Chairperson of the KwaZulu-Natal Parents’ Association Durban South, Vee Gani, said some amendments in the bill were not feasible at present.

“It says schools should have more than one language of instruction but the department knows that it has repeatedly failed to provide adequate teachers to some schools because of a lack of funding and so forth,” Gani said.

“Also, schools already teach at least two languages but to have both as a language of instruction will also require books and study guides in both languages, which currently don’t exist in languages such as isiZulu.”

Both Gumede and Gani conceded that there had been cases when SGBs had disrupted schooling and when they had taken bribes from people who wanted promotions, which the bill sought to address.

“The department’s own officials have been found to have colluded with the SGBs in incidents of corruption like the selling of posts, which is even more reason why power should not be given to one person who will not have to account to the other stakeholders,” said Gumede.

Teacher unions were also against the proposal that the department take over the process of promotions in schools.

Allen Thompson of the National Teachers' Union (Natu) agreed that some SGBs lacked capacity in the hiring of senior teachers and in dealing with school finances.

“Yes, some SGBs lack capacity in dealing with promotional appointments and the management of school finances, but the department should rather look at ways of capacitating them,” he said.

Therona Moodley of the National Professional Teachers’ Organisation of South Africa (Naptosa) said the draft bill would lead to a “dictatorial and undemocratic” situation and the department had not considered creative ways of managing existing challenges.

“We acknowledge that some SGBs lack the insight to recommend the appointment of school managers. Together, all stakeholders must find alternatives that will benefit all,” said Moodley.

On Wednesday Natu made its representations to the department on the bill and Thompson said they had also asked for a review of the clause related to security, which states that only the principal or a person appointed by the principal may search pupils for weapons and illegal substances.

“Teachers are not security guards, and to have a bill that says they must search pupils then take the drugs or weapons to the nearest police station could potentially put their lives at risk,” said Thompson.

“The department must look at alternative ways of addressing security problems in schools, such as installing metal detectors and hiring more guards.”

Sunday Tribune