Email to DBE 26/8/2020

Dear Phindile Ngcobo, and Dr. Simelane – in your capacity as representatives of the Department of Basic Education

Thank you for your patience, in this extra time I have consulted with various South Africans practicing SDE/NL from several provinces, ranging from age 12 up, from several different religious, linguistic and ‘racial’ backgrounds and gender identifications; I have also discussed the situation with a few international colleagues.

I do not claim to represent Self-Directed Education/Natural Learning/Unschooling in South Africa since it is currently impossible for anyone to claim such representative status: there are currently no national or provincial associations with any legitimacy, for this category of education.

As stated by Minister Motshekga on previous occasions and reiterated by yourself Ms Ngcobo at the Home Education meeting on Monday 17th August 2020, the DBE’s current mandate is strictly for education that is defined by curriculum, performance, assessment and monitoring. As such, Self-Directed Education/Natural Learning (SDE/NL), which can not be defined by these parameters, does not align with the DBE’s mandate. To try to adjust SDE/NL to align with such a mandate would render it no longer SDE/NL. I would like to acknowledge the considerable effort that you Ms Ngcobo took to assure us that ‘the DBE is not here to make anyone’s lives difficult’, and that the DBE acknowledges the right of families to choose educational approaches according to the best interests of each individual young person.

On the other hand, the fact that the DBE’s limited mandate leads to policies and procedures that cannot extend to oversight of the SDE/NL sector leaves a question on how to engage in terms of the duties of the state.

It is therefore respectfully suggested that in order for South Africa to comply with the requirements of the Abidjan Principles for government to not only provide public education but also to allow for educational pluralism as well as to oversee all types of ‘private’ education to prevent educational abuse, that I and others are willing to actively assist the Dept. of Social Services in setting up an independently selected Youth Ombudsperson’s office (which South Africa has been in need of for many purposes for quite some time now) which can include a sub-office for representatively elected Education Ombudspersons in order to prevent abuse in all educational sectors including those which it is not realistic for the DBE to be concerned with. We would be happy to have you introduce us to the appropriate people in this regard.

Alternatively, should the DBE mandate become extended so that Self-Directed Education/Natural Learning/Unschooling can become part of their direct concern, then I await your invitation, presumably once your current crisis resolves, to a series of truly participatory meetings (that will obviously include extensive involvement of people of all ages in order to be legitimate) specifically concerning how SDE/NL, thereby being accepted by the DBE as being a valid form of education not defined by curriculum and assessment, can nonetheless be registered with your department in ways that are genuinely in the interests of each and all of the young people concerned.


Je’anna Clements (Psych. Hons)       
Author: Helping The Butterfly Hatch: How Self-Directed Education Works and Why (Forthcoming Dec 2020)

International consultant-observers to the sending of this mail
Derry Hannam, B.Ed (Oxon) D.Phil – United Kingdom school inspector (retired), consultant, researcher and advisor to the Council of Europe and the governments of the United Kingdom, Malta and Finland in Education for Democratic Citizenship (EDC)
Katy Zago, ALLI-asbl (Luxembourg Association for the Freedom of Education)
Bertrand Stern, initiator of the film CaRaBa and philosopher of educational issues, Germany

One thought on “Email to DBE 26/8/2020”

  1. As a social anthropologist who has undertaken research with various categories of South African children, and who, as a member of the advisory team coordinated by the University of Cape Town Children’s Institute (UCT CI) contributed to the recommendations made in regard to the formulation of the South African Children’s Act and Amendments thereto by the Department of Social Development, I find the points made in this submission both appropriate and timeous.
    In conventional schooling, teachers guide learners towards pre-determined outcomes. Self-Directed Education (SDE) enables learners to set their own targets and route (Clements 2017b, Hart 2008, Maluleke 2015). This has become critically important since school graduates in the 21st Century face international competition, migration, and political and environmental challenges that disrupt former conceptions of the workplace (Luna Scott 2015). All learners, rather than a select few, need “to cultivate meta-cognitive competencies and skills from the earliest stages of formal education” (Luna Scott 2015: 2) since creativity, versatility, persistence, self-confidence and flexibility are increasingly sought after and valued in the working world (Olson 2015, Clements 2017a). These require a flexible and self-directed personal capacity in children to “learn and relearn what they need to know as things change and change again” (Clements 2017a, also see Hirschi 2018). Moreover, standardised curricula cannot be developed for the fusion or merging of technologies, referred to collectively as cyber-physical systems. Self-Directed Education (SDE) “provides grounded experience that will be of value for learners both in the present and the long-term and in many facets of life” (Kruger 2020: 18).
    In conclusion, the importance of children’s own insights and preferences should be foregrounded:
    Section 9 of the South African Children’s Act 38 of 2005 stipulates that a child’s best interests are of paramount importance in all matters concerning the care, protection and well-being of a child. This acknowledges that children’s lives are widely diverse, rather than standardised. Moreover, Section 10 on Child Participation requires that “Every child that is of such an age, maturity and stage of development as to be able to participate in any matter concerning that child has the right to participate in an appropriate way and views expressed by the child must be given due consideration.”
    * Clements, J. L. 2017a. Arm Wrestling with AI: Self-Directed Education as a Toolbox for the Future. Tipping Points.
    * Clements, J. L. 2017b. Educational ‘Scaffolding’ and Thinking ‘Outside the Box’. Tipping Points.
    * Hart, R. A. 2008. Stepping back from ‘The ladder’: Reflections on a Model of Participatory Work with Children. In Participation and learning, edited by A. Reid, B. B. Jensen et al. Springer, Dordrecht: 19-31.
    * Hirschi, A. 2018. The Fourth Industrial Revolution: Issues and Implications for Career Research and Practice. The Career Development Quarterly 66, no. 3: 192-204.
    * Kruger, J. 2020. Self-directed Education in Two Transformative Pro-environmental Initiatives Within the Eco-Schools Programme, a South African Case Study. Education As Change 24, #6649: 1-23.
    * Luna Scott, C. 2015. The Futures of Learning 2: What Kind of Learning for the 21st Century? Education Research and Foresight Working Papers. UNESCO.
    Maluleke, H. M. 2015. Curriculum Policy Implementation in the South African Context, with Reference to Environmental Education Within the Natural Sciences. PhD Diss., Unisa.
    Olson, K. 2015. Wounded by school. Teachers College Press.
    South African Children’s Act 38 of 2005

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *