Legislative development has been gaining momentum in South Africa since the end of 2019. In October 2017, the Department of Basic Education (DBE) published the Basic Education Laws Amendment (BELA) Bill for public comment.
This bill proposed changes that would transform home education into an unaffordable form of public school education at home. The home education movement reacted with what the director general of the DBE described as an “avalanche” of comments.
Comments to BELA Bill
After about two years of silence on the issue, on December 13, 2019, the Pestalozzi Trust was requested to comment on the latest version of the BELA Bill. Members of the Pestalozzi executive team and their lawyers worked through the holiday period and compiled a submission with the following items included:
- Reasons why the regulation of home education should not be included in the South Africa Schools Act, since it is not reasonable to regulate non-school education with a schools act.
- Clause-by-clause comments on all the sections in the BELA Bill that affect home education, pointing out conflicts between the BELA Bill and other legislation.
- A senior counsel opinion on three critical contested points in the BELA Bill—namely the requirements to register for every phase, the provision for home visits, and an imprisonment sentence.
Meeting with the Minister
After submitting the comments, the Pestalozzi Trust received an invitation to meet with the Minister of Basic Education on January 27. The meeting took place in a positive and constructive spirit. The Pestalozzi Trust received some feedback on its submission and was given the opportunity to provide even more input.
The DBE organized a Home Education Roundtable on February 28, 2020. It seems that the original intention of the Roundtable was to establish a “social compact.” This is a co-operation of the DBE and co-opted curriculum providers, with the purpose to use the efficient administrative capabilities of curriculum providers to enforce legislation, since the DBE does not have the administrative capabilities required by the law.
Home education associations and the Pestalozzi Trust, who represent those affected by homeschool legislation, were originally not invited. However, an invitation was extended after some pressure was applied. The Roundtable also took place in a positive and constructive spirit, and the Pestalozzi Trust is cautiously optimistic that the Roundtable could create an opportunity for further engagements.
A Home Education CODESA
The home education movement in South Africa is very diverse, with a wide variety of views on how home education should be practiced and regulated. Something that is perfectly reasonable to one might be an infringement of a fundamental human right or against the religious convictions of another, and can cause conflict between families and the state.
It is important that the home education movement prepares for engaging with government on the BELA Bill in a unified and well considered manner. Otherwise the government can exploit the diversity of the movement and choose to only engage with those that are closest aligned to the ideology of the state.
The Pestalozzi Trust plans to create a unified voice for this diverse movement by means of a Home Education CODESA, with the common goal of protecting the rights and freedoms of all, to allow for this diversity to continue to flourish. CODESA is the acronym for Convention for a Democratic South Africa, which was a structure created in the 1990s for negotiations between very diverse stakeholders that eventually led to a new political dispensation.
The Pestalozzi Trust is thankful to be part of the international home education movement and intends to involve participants from other countries to provide international perspectives to the CODESA, through the HSLDA.