There is still an opportunity for parents in South Africa to stop legislation introduced years ago that would severely restrict homeschooling.
In South Africa the process of introducing a new law can take more than a decade from its inception to promulgation. The government often tries to keep this process hidden from the public for as long as possible, so that by the time that the public becomes aware of the new law, it is almost impossible to stop it.
On a high level, the process consists of three phases: pre-parliamentary, parliamentary, and post-parliamentary. The proposed education legislation for South Africa is currently in the pre-parliamentary phase.
Photo courtesy of Pestalozzi Trust
It is fortunate that South African home educators became aware of the planned legislation at an early stage, because this has provided many opportunities for the home education movement to lobby legislators.
The Pre-parliamentary Process
The Department of Basic Education (DBE) in South Africa has been drafting amendments to the South African Schools Act (SASA) since 2013. Some of these amendments will have a significant impact on the liberties of home educators. Home educators were unaware of this until the Basic Education Laws Amendment Bill (BELA Bill) was published for public comment in the government gazette in October 2017. If it had not been for a vigilant homeschooling mother who alerted the home education organizations about this, this legislation could easily have passed unnoticed.
When home educators became aware of the proposed law amendments, the reaction was extensive. Home educators made more than 1,000 submissions commenting on the bill. The Pestalozzi Trust, the legal defence fund for home education in South Africa, also designed an innovative solution to allow home educators to make anonymous submissions to the DBE.
When the DBE’s director general reported back to parliament on this bill, he described the reaction of homeschoolers as an “avalanche.”
After the DBE studied all the submissions, they had discussions with the major stakeholders. The Pestalozzi Trust was requested to submit additional comments on a revised version of the BELA Bill in December 2019.
The Pestalozzi Trust used this opportunity to provide clause-by-clause comments on the sections affecting home educators, as well as a legal opinion on the home visit clause. In January 2020 the minister of basic education invited the Pestalozzi Trust to a meeting, during which a number of salient points could be discussed. The Pestalozzi Trust did not only object to some clauses, but also provided a positive proposal of alternative formulations and a different regulatory framework more suitable for home education.
The DBE must still follow a number of steps before the BELA Bill can be submitted to parliament, including a socio-economic impact assessment study (SEIAS). The Pestalozzi Trust submitted a framework of what research would be required to perform a valid SEIAS as well as research reports showing how the law amendments are misaligned with the current practice of home education. The BELA Bill must also be reviewed by the Office of the Chief State Law Advisor (OCSLA), a requirement the Pestalozzi Trust used as an opportunity to submit a legal opinion on home visits.
The BELA Bill must also be tabled at the Council of (provincial) Education Ministers (CEM) and the Social Cluster Ministers.
The home education movement is currently planning campaigns to raise concerns with the participants in all these forums. The extent to which the home education movement is involved in the pre-parliamentary process is probably unprecedented in South African history. The Pestalozzi Trust is thankful for all these opportunities, and we pray that these efforts contribute towards the protection of the liberty of home education in South Africa.
Parliament and Beyond
After the BELA Bill has been submitted to parliament, there will be many opportunities to provide input to members. After having been approved by parliament, the bill passes to the president for signature. This creates another opportunity to petition the president not to sign the bill, sending it back to parliament instead.
However, even after the president has signed the BELA Bill into law, it most certainly is not the end of the road. By the time the new law is promulgated, the Pestalozzi Trust legal team will be fully prepared to challenge unconstitutional infringements on the rights of home educators in court.
Without the loyal support of its members, the Pestalozzi Trust would not have been able to exploit the opportunity to have the voices of home educators heard by government. The loyal supporters of the Trust not only support the Pestalozzi Trust by their membership fees, but also by being active citizens and taking part in campaigns spearheaded by the Pestalozzi Trust and various homeschool associations.