South African homeschoolers say they are more optimistic about thwarting proposed restrictions after speaking with national lawmakers in person.
In late November, advocates from groups including national organizations the Pestalozzi Trust and the Association for Homeschooling—testified about the benefits of home education to members of the Parliamentary Committee for Basic Education. HSLDA Senior Counsel and Director of Global Outreach Mike Donnelly came to add additional perspective from research on homeschooling and legislative impact on homeschool students’ achievement.
The presentations were given at the invitation of the committee, which is considering legislation introduced into the lower house of the South African parliament in January 2022. Drafted in 2017, the Basic Education Laws Amendment (BELA) bill would impose severe restrictions on homeschooling.
Among other things, homeschool families would have to open their homes to visits by officials and only use curriculum that conforms with government-approved ideology.
“This bill would be pretty draconian,” said Donnelly, “especially given the long history of homeschooling in South Africa and its success there.”
Advocates presented testimony based on several themes:
- homeschooling is a human right,
- protecting the educational option only adds to South Africa’s renowned diversity, and
- it is parents, not the government, who bear the primary responsibility for directing their children’s education.
Lawmakers appear to have been most impressed by evidence that homeschooling not only prepares students academically, but it also develops engaged citizens who work for the good of their communities.
“They were very nice and very open,” said Donnelly, who spent a full day in the committee room in Cape Town. “They were interested and asked good questions.”
In Donnelly’s presentation, he explained how South Africa’s commitment to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights obligates it to protect homeschooling. He also shared, from his own experience as a legal advocate and a homeschooling father, how he has seen the educational method help students thrive.
He applauded legislators for being willing to listen to constituents and learn more about this important issue.
“Madame Chair,” he said, “I’m really glad that you are having these hearings because you will meet homeschool families and see that this is something you want to protect, not restrict.”
Graduate Offers Evidence
Donnelly’s assertion was confirmed by the testimony of Ruan Ueckermann, a South African homeschool graduate now pursuing a degree in business law.
As the Association for Homeschooling reported, Ruan “explained how his parents created a supportive natural learning environment that encouraged self-directed study.” He said he was given wide latitude to explore his own interests, so that now, in addition to pursuing law, he is “enrolled in several online courses for creative writing and illustrative art.”
Lawmakers appear determined to continue deliberating the bill, which homeschool advocates see as a good sign.
Karin van Oostrum with the Pestalozzi Trust reported that committee members “seem to have been influenced so positively that when an upcoming study tour was discussed, they proposed a tour to the US, and specifically Washington DC, the reason being given that homeschooling is very prominent in the US and needs to be studied in more detail!”
She added: “Thank you HSLDA, for the extremely valuable work that you do in reaching out internationally to so many homeschooling communities … which you help gain self-confidence and momentum.”