The following condensed version of Objections to the BELA Bill Part 1 and 2, on this page’s blog, appeared in the Saturday Star on 11 November 2017.
Objections to the BELA Bill
The Basic Education laws of South Africa need urgent amendment, but the Basic Education Laws Amendment Bill (BELA Bill) is the opposite of what’s needed.
Instead of sustainable change and educational success, BELA could lead to civil disobedience and new levels of educational disaster for South Africa.
There are a moral, logical and conceptual problems at the foundation of current policy. Instead of addressing these, BELA entrenches and compounds them.
Democracy vs Totalitarianism.
South Africa’s Constitution, our country’s supreme law, provides for
“ a society based on democratic values, social justice and fundamental human rights;
…(an) open society in which government is based on the will of the people”
and aims to “improve the quality of life of all citizens and free the potential of each person.”
– The Constitution of South Africa, 1996
As part of South Africa’s ongoing legal fulfillment of that constitution, the BELA Bill should increase democratic participation, embody social justice and human rights, and improve the quality of life of educators and learners. Why then, does it seek to do the opposite?
There are a number of worrying ways in which BELA, in both content and process, points away from democracy and social justice, towards the kind of authoritarian pseudo-democratic totalitarianism of the Apartheid years.
Active Prevention of Public Comment
BELA was posted for public comment on the 13th of October 2017, with submissions deadline 10th November 2017.
This is less than a month. When almost everyone affected by the BELA Bill is at their busiest time all year.
So many emails were received by Adv. Rudman, begging for extension for time to comment, that his office told people to stop. Extension was denied.
You were forced to choose. If the government’s call for comment was real, it’s an instruction to neglect exams. Those who denied extension are guilty of sabotaging education, and could theoretically be put on trial.
It’s impossible that the education department set exam dates, limited the comment period, and denied an extension, all by accident – unless they’re too clueless to be involved in education.
Clearly, public comment was limited deliberately. The citizens most directly affected were prevented from having a proper say.
This is a move away from democracy, toward totalitarianism.
The Child’s Right to Participate and be Heard
South Africa has ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child – children have the right to participate in decisions that affect them. They had more right than anyone, to comment on BELA.
It is significant that BELA makes zero attempt to tackle children’s rights crises in our schools – bullying and abuse, children’s participation, the right to play, freedom of expression, and more. It is even more significant that there was no provision for children’s comments.
Why did NPO’s and private individuals have to use their own resources so that a handful of children could rush out comments?
What’s more ‘educational’ than real civic participation?
Why was comment on the BELA Bill not the main activity in government classrooms last week?
Because neither the BELA Bill nor the education department is particularly concerned about actual… education. The concern is with state convenience and control.
Authoritarian Problem Solving Strategies
Let’s briefly look at just three BELA Bill solutions that embody the opposite of social justice and improvement of the quality of life.
1: Parents keep children ‘out of school’ for many reasons – poor school quality, bullying, abusive teachers, and more. Instead of seeking constructive ways to address these underlying problems, BELA raises the penalty from 6 months to 6 years. Simple, punitive authoritarianism.
2: It’s no surprise alcohol and ‘performance enhancing’ substance abuse are rising in schools. Children are under pressure, in a system that ignores their needs. The content-heavy curriculum is a huge source of stress, even before the horrific bullying, and abuse by staff currently rife in South Africa. Instead of constructive measures to reduce school stress and provide learners with effective channels for conflict resolution, BELA’s only remedy is… invade learner privacy – search them.
Example 3: Far too many teachers still illegally use corporal punishment. We even have cases that result in death! Yet this was not considered important enough for BELA to tackle. At all.
Thinking back to examples 1 and 2, let’s consider that a learner out of school with parental permission or being searched for prohibited substances may be terrified of being beaten to death in class. Or raped. Or being pressured to have sex with teachers ‘for marks’. Does punishing them or their families make any kind of sense?
In addition, BELA also seeks to centralise control of school boards and home education, ignoring international research showing how children’s educational best interest is served by de-centralised control allowing for personalised learning.
Does BELA progressively fulfill human rights, social justice, democracy, and quality of life for all citizens, including children?
Or is it herding us back to the dark ages of oppression?
The Child’s Right to Education vs Government’s Right To Educate.
The child has the right to education.
The parents and the government have the obligation to support the child in fulfilling their right to education.
Current law and BELA embody the unfounded idea that government has the right to control education, even if this undermines and sabotages the child’s right to education.
The government has neither an automatic nor exclusive right to educate the child. State obligation to provide basic education resources to all children, does not equal obligation for families to use government services.
Our government behaves as if education is their right, not the child’s. This habit is a leftover of colonialism and Apartheid, which both used schooling for cultural destruction and brainwashing.
This was easy to get away with when only schools owned books. Now there are countless ways for children to meet their unique educational needs.
“Education” and “school” are no longer synonymous (if they ever were).
Forcing compliance through punishment is a shameful legacy, not a proud innovation. We must change laws that government historically used to leverage education as a tool of oppression.
Basic Education Law amendments must clarify that children have the right to educational support from government, but no obligation to use this support if their educational needs are sufficiently met without it. The BELA Bill does the opposite.
The Child’s Best Interest vs State Convenience.
“A child’s best interests are of paramount importance in every matter concerning the child.”
(South African Constitution 28.2)
If compliance with government education services is not in the child’s best interest, the family has the constitutional obligation not to comply.
A growing number of South Africans judge that government schooling and/or compliance with the national curriculum and assessment processes, is not in their child’s best interests.
There may even be constitutional grounds for prosecuting officials when families are pressured or forced into compliance against the child’s best interest.
Basic Education Law amendments must clarify that it’s a crime to prevent or interfere with a child fulfilling their right to education according to individual best interests. The BELA Bill does the opposite, entrenching state convenience at the child’s expense.
Home Education vs School is the Constitutionally Supported Default
Basic Education is officially part of the South African Social Services cluster.
The Constitution makes clear that children’s social services needs are automatically met through the family. Where families fail, the state provides support. Only where neglect or abuse is proved, does the state take over.
We do not ask for ‘permission’ or ‘register’ for children to sleep at home instead of an orphanage, or stay home with flu instead of have government care.
Just like housing and health care, families have the constitutional right to choose educational services.
Only where significant abuse or neglect is proved in court, can the constitution support that the child be ordered into any kind of government supervision or care.
BELA is Not the Answer.
Our current law, common practice, and BELA, are unconstitutional.
Governance is a matter for best practice, not habit or convenience.
Our constitution was bought with the blood of our heroes and the tears of our people – it must not be contemptuously ignored.
Education services in South Africa must start serving… instead of dishing out.
Government must use the best of everything to develop effective education services, instead of shooting at the holes that are sinking their ship.
Alternative education is on the rise world-wide, because it’s working. The future we face demands a new approach.
Instead of treating alternative education as a plague to control, the government should draw on this resource for input and advice – it’s very hard to provide a first-language learning for all in conventional schools, but relatively easy with alternative education.
There’s one glimmer of hope in BELA. It provides for education ministers to “obtain inputs from a broader spectrum of people.”
We’re here. We’re willing. Free our potential and we will free yours!
Knock on our doors to include (instead of ‘regulate’) us. We’ll be home!