National home schoolers challenge proposed curriculum

A Christian-based group and Kader Asmal lock horns, reports Edwin Naidu

Minister of Education Kader Asmal has become embroiled in a bitter row with home schoolers over Curriculum 2005.

Asmal has been the target of attacks since the release of the National Curriculum Statement (NCS) in July.

Parents and educators claim his behaviour regarding the curriculum is dictatorial and denies children the right to choose their own religious beliefs.

But the minister hit back last month in a statement which said the opinions of groups like the home schoolers represented a minority view and that they should not attempt to impose their “loony, paranoid and perverse ideas on the nation”.

Leendert van Oostrum of the Pretoria-based home schooling movement, the Pestalozzi Trust, said the rights of children to privacy, psychological integrity and freedom of choice was denied in the proposed revision of the curriculum. In letters to the media, Asmal and Linda Chisholm, who chairs the project committee to streamline and strengthen Curriculum 2005, have been accused of trying to enforce “ungodly principles”.

The NCS has been described as “dictatorial as those of communism and neo-Marxism”, while the United Christian Ministries (UCM) has described the national government as an “enemy of the church”.

“It is a sign of a corrupted tyranny when supposed leaders of our people would force a Christian majority to learn and accept evolution, ritual medicine and paganist earth worship, and consider it a failure if students do not subscribe to these values,” said UCM’s Tumi Tlale.

Van Oostrum said the Pestalozzi Trust was not campaigning against the proposed curriculum but wanted people to read the 1 400-page document and comment. “Our basic concern is that the curriculum is highly intrusive in terms of the child’s own religious and cultural identity. This is the core area of concern,” he said.

The Pestalozzi Trust represents around 1 000 families, who have up to 2 000 children studying at home.

Van Oostrum said many families have asked their elected representatives to adopt legislation to prevent attacks on the mental and spiritual integrity of children, just as they are protected from physical attack by the education laws.

“The General and Further Education Quality Assurance Bill, which provides the teeth for the revised curriculum, is currently in the committee stage in Parliament. Many families want to ensure this bill includes measures to protect children against intrusive policies,” he said.

Responding to the claims, Asmal described the campaign as “bizarre” and said the NCS was being presented as an attack on the constitution and a totalitarian imposition of a Marxist-inspired form of indoctrination. He said the main criticisms of the revised NCS centred on the involvement of the state in interfaith education. “The social sciences and life orientation learning area statements have come under particularly sharp attack. The life orientation learning area statement requires learners to learn about and compare different religions and world views in order to promote understanding of society and its different communities. The South African Home Schoolers promote religious, rather than secular, education,” Asmal said.

He said the home schoolers did not wish to learn about the religious beliefs different to their own, and, as such, their aims were unconstitutional. “Little wonder that their views are of those of a minority. They are not shared by the major religious organisations and leaders in the country who have been part and parcel of formulating the approach taken to the education of religion in our schools.”

- The Teacher/M&G Media, Johannesburg, November 2001.

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