The DBE’s Prime Mandate is to Provide Safe and Sufficient Education in it’s Own Schools

“Where were we when that terrible thing happened in Benoni?* That cannot happen again!” was the Department of Basic Education’s latest justification to public participants in recent consultation processes around home education registration.

The DBE is aiming to rush through amendments to home education registration processes in order to accommodate families who wish to delay their return to school due to fear of Covid-19. This in itself seems to be a handy excuse to push long-term home-educators in South Africa to register their families under what seem to be unconstitutional conditions that some suspect will primarily benefit curriculum-provider business bottom-lines and political agendas.

It’s a classic propaganda tactic – create an excuse for abuse of a minority group by planting seeds of prejudice. The DBE are apparently keen for us all to suspect that unregistered home-schoolers are disproportionately likely to keep their families locked in the basement, and that the DBE are the heroes who will prevent them from doing so – by ensuring that they all fill in their paperwork and toe the prescribed educational line.

Keeping the children of the nation safe from abuse is a critically important and very worthy task. However, is it valid for the DBE to claim that monolithic-style homeschooling registration will do anything meaningful towards achieving it? 

In the first place, prevention of child abuse is primarily the business of the Department of Social Development along with Child Protection Services, while the DBE’s official mandate is for the provision of public education. They actually have no particular training or resources for finding children in basements. However, perhaps being able to keep tabs on all the families currently home-schooling might still help?

If only things were that simple. Where was the DBE when Michael Komape drowned in his school’s pit toilet?* Where were they when Sizwe Kubheka was beaten to death by his teacher?* Where were they when 3 learners died and 20 were injured when their school walkway collapsed?* If the DBE lacks the resources to keep children safe even on their own school premises, how do they plan to keep tabs on thousands of homeschooling families scattered widely over distant locations?

Let’s consider Benoni, and only Benoni. Where was the DBE when “Zintle” was forced to continue attending a school where the man who sexually assaulted her continued to come to work?*  When a 13 year old boy who was bullied, died after being left in contact with his tormentors, in spite of reporting to the principal days before his death?*

When it comes to the question of being trapped in a place of horror and ongoing suffering, where were the DBE when Siphamandla Choma’s siblings had to keep attending the same school while their principal who had beaten their brother to the point of hospitalisation (he later died) had not yet been suspended?*

Let’s consider how many learners have no choice about returning, day after day, year after year to schools where they are beaten and intimidated as a matter of routine. At Msimude high school the DBE’s inability to provide sufficient water points resulted in queues for water at break time, and the last learners in the queue would be beaten for trying to quench their thirst after the bell had rung.* Years after corporal punishment was outlawed there are still too many stories to list here without needing a much higher word-count. 

Again and again we hear variations on the words: “We’ve tried to inform the department of education about the behavior of some of the teachers in that school but nothing has been done.” This particular quote comes from Lerato Sebola, whose 11year old was hospitalised along with 12 classmates after beatings by a teacher.*

Next, let’s consider the problem of sexual assault, rape, statutory rape, and ‘sex for marks’.* Not only are incidents of rape and sexual abuse by principals and teachers horrifically rife, but they are often poorly (if at all) resolved, and sometimes even framed by the DBE as ‘love affairs’, or ‘having sex with’ learners rather than for what they are: rape and sexual violation.* What is it like for learners to have to keep going back to these kinds of environments, even to see these things happening to their friends if not themselves?

Where are the DBE when these abuses continue within their own schools at the hands of their own employees, year after year after year?  How can they, with a straight face, imply that they would have been able to prevent a father in Benoni (or Springs, or anywhere) from violating his family, had he merely been ‘legally’ registered for home education?

It is not fair to blame the DBE for their helplessness in the face of the fact that violence in schools is so rife – South Africa as a whole is plagued by such issues, and change is a complex and gradual process.* But it’s certainly not ethical or appropriate for the DBE to opportunistically exploit our natural horror at extreme outlier situations as an excuse or a camouflage for their own dubious tactics.

The implication that home-educating children are automatically more at risk for abuse is not just insulting, it verges on libelous. If anything, home-educating parents are often protecting their children from the abuse that they have previously experienced, or fear to experience, in school. The latest batch of home-based learners the DBE needs to urgently accommodate are keeping their children safe from Covid-19, but this is merely the latest of many, many dangers. 

Even with regards to their direct mandate in terms of the provision of Public Education there are grounds to suggest that the DBE desperately needs to prioritise stabilising effective delivery to the majority of South Africans who are begging for decent service, before assigning resources to supervise a minority who are already well resourced and don’t feel they need the help.

So, on the one hand homeschooling registration policy and procedure seem to be being drafted with vested interests in mind, and on the other hand we are told to not look too closely at that – but instead keep our eyes on the goal of protecting children from abuse. We must forgive homeschooling parents for being solidly skeptical.

*
 Actually Springs, rather than Benoni but what’s a bit of minor geography between educators https://www.timeslive.co.za/news/south-africa/2018-10-03-springs-monster-jailed-for-35-years/

* https://www.sowetanlive.co.za/news/south-africa/2019-12-18-family-of-boy-who-drowned-in-school-pit-toilet-to-get-more-than-r1m-payout/

*
 https://www.sowetanlive.co.za/news/2014-04-02-teacher-arrested-after-beating-student-with-belt/

*https://www.timeslive.co.za/news/south-africa/2019-02-01-questions-posed-about-safety-of-walkway-at-horskool-driehoek/

*
 https://mg.co.za/article/2017-08-04-00-bitter-aftermath-of-sexual-abuse/

*
https://www.news24.com/news24/southafrica/news/boy-dies-after-allegedly-being-bullied-at-benoni-school-20170920

*
https://www.timeslive.co.za/news/south-africa/2017-03-22-pupil-paralysed-during-an-alleged-beating-by-principal-dies/

*
https://www.news24.com/news24/southafrica/news/teacher-caught-on-video-hitting-learners-for-coming-late-to-school-20190731

*
https://www.enca.com/south-africa/corporal-punishment-sends-13-hospital

*
https://www.news24.com/citypress/news/sex-for-marks-and-cash-matric-girl-pregnant-3-teachers-suspended-20181126

*
 https://mg.co.za/education/2020-08-09-teachers-having-sexual-relationships-with-learners-is-illegal/

*
https://www.news24.com/news24/southafrica/news/violence-in-sas-schools-is-worse-than-you-think-and-spanking-is-part-of-the-problem-20190607

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