Monday 22 April

The Basic Education Law Amendments (BELA) Bill has been shrouded in much controversy, debate, and misinformation. SECTION27 debunks five myths about the BELA Bill that have been circulating primarily through social media platforms.  

1. Abortion 

Fiction: 

The BELA Bill, often misunderstood as an abortion Bill, has generated misconceptions suggesting that it grants teachers authority to mandate abortions or interfere in learners’ pregnancies. There are concerns about parental notification and the possibility of learners being compelled into abortions. 

Founded on: 

 This issue appears to stem from the widespread problem of teenage pregnancies in the country, and there is a provision in the BELA Bill that empowers the Minister of Basic Education to establish regulations regarding learner pregnancy. 

What BELA really says: 

39. Section 61 of the South African Schools Act, 1996, is hereby amended— (a) by the insertion after paragraph (a) of the following paragraphs:  

‘‘(aA) on the management of learner pregnancy;  

(aB) on the admission of learners to public schools;  

(aC) on the prohibition of the payment of unauthorised remuneration or the giving of other financial benefits, or benefits in kind to certain employees;  

(aD) on the minimum norms and standards for provincial educator development institutes and district educator development centres;  

(aE) on the organisation, roles, and responsibilities of education districts;  

(aF) on a national education information system; and  

(b) by the addition of the following subsections, the existing section becoming subsection (1):  

(2) The regulations contemplated in subsection (1) may provide that any person who contravenes a provision thereof or fails to comply therewith is guilty of an offence and liable, on conviction, to a fine or to imprisonment for a period not exceeding six months, or to both a fine and such imprisonment.  

(3) Any regulation made under subsection (1) (aA) and (aB) must, before publication in the Gazette, be tabled in Parliament.’’ 

Fact: 

According to Section 61 of The South African Schools Act, the BELA Bill does not empower teachers or school officials to participate in a learner’s decision regarding abortion. The reference to ‘learner pregnancy’ in the BELA Bill is unrelated to abortion. Furthermore, the Bill cannot confer powers conflicting with the Choice on Termination of Pregnancy Act, which clearly outlines permissible roles in the abortion process. 

Therefore, this section of the BELA Bill does not allow  teachers or any school official to be involved in the decision of a learner to get an abortion. The mention of ‘learner pregnancy’ has nothing to do with abortions. 

2. Centralised Governance 

Fiction:

There is a belief that the BELA Bill will be removing all School Governing Bodies (SGBs) powers and placing the powers to govern in the hands of Heads of Departments. 

Founded on: 

These assertions are based on the change that the BELA Bill makes specifically to language and admissions policies. 

What BELA really says: 

Clause 4 Admissions: 

‘‘(5) Subject to this Act and any applicable provincial law, the admission policy of a public school is determined by the governing body of such school in line with the Constitution and relevant legislation: Provided that—  

(a) the governing body must submit the admission policy of a public school and any amendment thereof to the Head of Department for approval;  

(b) the Head of Department may approve the admission policy of a public school or any amendment thereof;  

(c) the Head of Department, when considering the admission policy or any amendment thereof for approval, must be satisfied that the policy or the amendment thereof takes into account the needs, in general, of the broader community in the education district in which the public school is situated, and must take into account factors including, but not limited to—  

(i) the best interests of the child, with emphasis on equality as provided for in section 9 of the Constitution, and equity;  

(ii) whether there are other schools in the community that are accessible to learners;  

(iii) the available resources of the school and the efficient and effective use of state resources; and  

(iv) the space available at the school for learners; and  

(d) the Head of Department, after consultation with the governing body of the school, has the final authority, subject to subsection (9), to admit a learner to a public school; and 

Clause 5 Language policies: 

‘(2) The governing body of a public school may, subject to subsection (13), determine the language policy of the school subject to the Constitution, this Act and any applicable provincial law: Provided that the language policy of a public school must be limited to one or more of the official languages of the Republic as provided in section 6(1) of the Constitution.’’; 

‘(5) The governing body must submit the language policy of a public school and any amendment thereof to the Head of Department for approval.  

(6) The Head of Department may approve the language policy of a public school or any amendment thereof. 

Fact:

School Governing Bodies  will retain  control over language and admissions policies, with the approval from the Head of Department in accordance with   the Constitution, ensuring a non-arbitrary process. 

3. Government will decide on the curriculum of schools. 

Fiction:

The BELA Bill will give the government the power to determine the curriculum of schools. This misconception relates to the centralisation of powers and fears that Head of Departments will be able to control all aspects of a school’s curriculum. 

Founded on: 

It seems as though this misconception stems from the belief that the Bill gives ‘full centralisation of powers’ to the state. 

What BELA really says: 

The BELA Bill only makes amendments to the South African Schools Act, 1996 (SASA) and the Employment of Educators Act, 1998 . This information can be found in the preamble on the first three pages of the Bill. 

Fact:

Curriculum is regulated by the National Curriculum and Assessment? Policy Statement (CAPS). Any change to national curriculum would have to be done through an amendment to CAPS and cannot be done through an amendment to The South African Schools Act or the Employment of Educators Act. 

4. Comprehensive sexuality education 

Fiction:  

Comprehensive Sexuality Education will be introduced into school curriculums and taught to students from a young age. 

Founded on: 

This misconception arises from fears that curriculum might be changed to address the growing international popularity of comprehensive sexual education, specifically in western countries like the US. 

What BELA really says: 

The BELA Bill only makes amendments to the South African Schools Act, 1996 (SASA) and the Employment of Educators Act, 1998. This information can be found in the preambleon the first three pages of the Bill. 

Fact: 

Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) is not included in the BELA Bill and contains no provisions or relevance to it. Should the state wish to change the curriculum to include CSE, they would have to meaningfully engage with stakeholders. 

5. Usurping power of parents 

Fiction:  

The BELA Bill will take away parents’ right to control their child’s education and enforce curriculums on parents who opt to homeschool their children. 

Founded on: 

Clauses on homeschooling, which add regulations to the homeschooling sector. 

What BELA really says: 

Home education  

51. (1) If the parent of a learner who is subject to compulsory attendance as contemplated in section 3(1) chooses to educate the learner at home, such parent must apply to the Head of Department for the registration of the learner to receive home education.  

(2) The Head of Department must approve the application and register the learner as contemplated in subsection (1)—  

(a) if he or she is satisfied that—  

(i) education at home, as provided for in this Act, is in the best interests of the learner; 

(ii) the parent understands what home education entails and accepts full responsibility for the implementation of home education for the learner; 

(iii) and the proposed home education programme is suitable for the learner’s age, grade level and ability and predominantly covers the acquisition of content and skills at least comparable to the relevant national curriculum determined by the Minister; and  

(b) if the parent undertakes to—  

(i) make suitable educational resources available to support the learner’s learning. 

(ii) monitor the learner’s academic progress.  

(iii) arrange for the learner’s educational attainment to be assessed by a competent assessor—  

(aa) at the end of each phase, up to the end of the year in which the learner reaches the age of 15 years or completes grade 9, whichever occurs first; and  

(bb) against a standard that is not inferior to the standard determined in the National Curriculum Statement; and  

(iv) submit to the Head of Department, at the end of each phase and as evidence of the learner’s educational attainment, the learner’s assessment report, signed by the competent assessor. 

Fact:  

Parents who opt to homeschool will still have the right to determine what they teach their children, so long as it is in the child’s best interest, the parents accept full responsibility, and the education envisioned is appropriate. The intention of this clause is not to control children’s education but to bring regulation to a sector which for the most part has been unregulated.