BELA Bill farce to hide Department failures

BELA Bill farce to hide Department failures. Picture: Courtney Africa/African News Agency(ANA)

BELA Bill farce to hide Department failures. Picture: Courtney Africa/African News Agency(ANA)

Published Mar 24, 2024


Despite assurances by the Department of Basic Education (DBE) that the Basic Education Laws Amendment (BELA) Bill will improve education and cohesion within the sector, civil rights movements have blasted it as nothing more than a ruse to hide the department’s shortcomings.

The bill has in recent months come under the spotlight as public hearings were being held over its implementation.

According to numerous reports, the bill proposes significant amendments to the South African Schools Act (SASA) of 1996 and the Educators Employment Act of 1998, changes which have come under immense criticism from various quarters.

Civil rights organisation AfriForum, the latest to criticise the bill, said it would not serve to improve education or assist with cohesion, but instead undermine quality education and alienate communities in the country from each other.

Head of Cultural Affairs at AfriForum, Alana Bailey, said although the department’s Chief Director of Planning, James Ndlebe’s recent presentation to the Select Committee on Education and Technology, Sports, Art and Culture, regarding the bill had claimed that it was essential for the transformation of the sector, nothing was further from the truth.

Bailey said they believed that it was clear that controversial parts of the bill, especially those regarding the final decision-making powers regarding schools admission and language policies, were in actual fact created to anglicise Afrikaans schools.

She added that it also sought to further conceal the department’s failure to build adequate schools and provide education in more mother-tongue languages.

“The department persists in portraying monolingual Afrikaans mother-language schools as unacceptable. Lately, it is being done in a more circumspect manner, but Afrikaans speakers know that it is Afrikaans schools in particular that have been accused of exclusion in the past and where staff and governing bodies are still constantly under pressure to provide English tuition,” said Bailey.

“The BELA Bill will enable the department to force schools to accept more learners and destroy the existing mother-language education in any language other than English, with the pretext that children will not be excluded. In essence, English-language education excludes 90% of the country’s children because English is not their mother language.”

Among the bill’s detractors, Build One South Africa (Bosa), the DA and Freedom Front Plus (FF+), expressed a similar view of how the bill would effectively undermine the authority of school governing bodies (SGBs) and centralise decision-making powers, hence it would be challenged should it be passed.

Other proposed changes in the Bill include making Grade R compulsory, criminalising parents who fail to ensure their children attend school, with potential jail time as a consequence, and enabling the department to regulate Home education regulation.

It also requires school governing bodies to submit their language policies for approval, which has come under fire, and accommodating religion in school codes of conduct among others.

The Star

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