A Brief History of Homeschooling in South Africa

Although there were a small number of homeschoolers in South Africa before 1994, home education was not encouraged before the government of Nelson Mandela. By the early 90s, homeschoolers realized that if they wanted to be allowed to teach their own children, they had to start organizing. As a result, the Association for Homeschooling was founded in 1992.

South Africa adopted a new constitution in 1994, in which the right to education, and therefore to home education, was protected. So home education became explicitly legal, and the numbers started growing. In 1996 homeschooling was included in the South Africa Schools Act.

By 1998 the Association for Homeschooling realized that it would not be able to enforce the right to provide children in South Africa with home education unless it had the necessary teeth to call upon the courts to enforce that right. Therefore, the Pestalozzi Trust was founded in 1998, for the support and protection of home education in South Africa. It started advocating home education freely and informing the lawmakers as well as the bureaucrats.

A public benefit organization, the Pestalozzi Trust has made it possible for parents to choose home education with assurance and confidence ever since 1998. The Trust does this by preventing and solving conflict between their members and state authorities, and by defending member families in court if conflict cannot be settled outside the courts.

In 1999 the policy on home education was published. This policy is still in force today.

It is evident from the 2011 census that the homeschooling movement has been growing at a steady rate—the report counted 56,000 homeschoolers. Although the figure probably includes cottage and center schoolers as well, who by law are excluded from home education proper, the figure is useful, falling in the middle of the estimates by homeschooling leaders.

According to research, at least 95% of the homeschoolers in South Africa are not registered with the education departments. They do this in order to protect their own and their children’s rights against intrusion by state officials.

Children are “Wards of the State”

A review of the laws and policies on home education started in 2014, and it is still ongoing.

Together with other stakeholders, the Pestalozzi Trust has been involved in discussions with the Department of Basic Education (DBE) on the review, but it has become apparent that homeschooling parents and the state are in direct opposition regarding the basic question of whose responsibility it is to educate children.

While the state favors the notion of a “shared responsibility,” Dr. Moses Simelane, the DBE director responsible for home education, also called children “wards of the state.” In doing so, he ignored parents’ primary responsibility towards the education of their children. According to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, article 26.3, to which South Africa is a signatory: “Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.”

Homeschoolers Face New Threats

Although no new law or policy has officially been made known, on the MEC for Education for the Gauteng Province in South Africa launched an unexpected attack on homeschoolers on March 27, 2017, insinuating that the motive for home education is racial separatism.

In his view, “a strong review” of the South African homeschooling policy was necessary. This assertion led to much anger and fear amongst homeschoolers, most of whom are salvaging their children from the wreck of an education system weighed down by heavy assessments. These assessments are imposed by the state Curriculum and Assessment Policy System (CAPS) on overworked, unmotivated teachers.

In June 2017, Dr. Simelane disclosed some aspects of the new policy. During a presentation at the annual Gauteng Department of Education “lekgotla” (the indigenous Tswana word for a “conference”) he indicated that home educated children would be subjected to an intensive assessment system. In effect, this would enforce the state curriculum on all homeschoolers.

Further indications are that the new law and policy will probably be enforced more aggressively, for instance, by increasing the punishment for non-attendance (and non-registration) tenfold.

Teacher Qualifications Threaten Freedom

In line with this more aggressive stance there recently was an incident in which an education department official terrorized homeschooling parents in the North West province. The Pestalozzi Trust received anxious calls from mothers in the province, who said that an official who did not present any recognizable identification document had made her way into the homes of homeschoolers.

The official threatened the parents repeatedly, saying that although they had been registered before, their renewal applications for registration could be turned down. No reason was given for this threat. According to a policy that she brandished, the parents had to be qualified teachers in order to homeschool their children. (This requirement is not part of the present policy for home education.)

Ironically, it was found that these parents had been registering with the education department for years, as required by Section 51 of the South Africa Schools Act. They felt that they had been complying with the demands of the state. Behavior like this is totally unacceptable from any official.

Your prayers and support will be essential when the new home education law and policy is promulgated. If it is going to be as constrictive as expected, it probably will have to be set aside in court. South African homeschoolers will need all possible international support in the coming years.

Hopefully the outcome of the present struggle will be laws, policies, and procedures that are in fact lawful and in line with our constitution.