/ 1 February 2024

Equal Education calls for swift adoption of Bela bill

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Among other things, the Basic Education Laws Amendment Bill calls for grade R to be compulsory school-starting age

Advocacy group Equal Education (EE) is calling on the government to swiftly finalise amendments to the Basic Education Laws Amendment (Bela) Bill that proposes changes to the South African Schools Act and the Employment of Educators Act.

On Wednesday, the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) closed public comment on the bill and said it will soon begin reviewing the submissions from the public.

Equal Education has called on the NCOP to act swiftly in adopting amendments to the bill, adding that it is “long overdue”.

The bill intends to deal with issues such as:

  • Making grade R the new compulsory school-starting age;
  • Upholding undocumented children’s right to a basic education;
  • Ensuring the inclusion of sign language;
  • Confirmation that corporal punishment is no longer allowed;
  • Enhancing the role of oversight by the head of department;
  • Improving governance at schools;
  • Clarity on the merging and closure of schools;
  • Penalties for parents who do not ensure their children attend school;
  • Searching learners for drugs
  • Aligning homeschooling and public schooling; and 
  • Setting provisions that are not provided for in the legislation

Equal Education said it is concerned that the bill will “unjustly criminalise parents” who do not want to send their children to school for legitimate reasons.

The bill calls for jail time — from six to 12 months — for anyone who prevents a child from attending school without  good reason.

“It is concerning that the members of the portfolio committee paid such little attention to this provision because criminalising parents and caregivers does not solve the underlying reasons children sometimes do not go to school,” the advocacy group’s Sesethu August said in a statement.

The Democratic Alliance (DA) has opposed the bill in its current form, arguing that it will “disempower” schools.

“While we support educational reform, we will not support a bill that ultimately disempowers schools and communities and fails to address a single one of the systemic challenges that impede quality education in South Africa,” said DA MP Bax Nodada.

The basic education department has been under fire for delaying meeting the legal obligations in the minimum norms and standards for public school infrastructure that were set in 2013.

This includes the removal of all pit latrines and the provision of a library in all schools within 10 years. The department has missed the deadline it set.

“Too little has been done. You still find schools that consist only of mobile classrooms. We still have problems of overcrowding where one class will have 60 learners, and as learners, we can’t maximise our potential in these conditions,” said Equal Education’s deputy chairperson, Yonela Sewela.

The advocacy group said 3 932 schools in South Africa still have pit latrines, while 74% of schools do not have adequate libraries.