New laws for schools in South Africa – the clock is ticking

Jan 17, 2024 - 22:21
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New laws for schools in South Africa – the clock is ticking
Image Credit : BusinessTech

Luke Fraser

The National Council of Province’s Select Committee on Education and Technology, Sports, Arts and Culture has extended the deadline for public comments on the Basic Education Laws Amendment (BELA) Bill.

The deadline has been moved from Friday, 19 January 2024 at 16h00 to Wednesday, 31 January 2024, at 16h00.

Various stakeholders requested that there be an extension so that they can make supplementary inputs to their submissions. The committee Chairperson, Elleck Nchabeleng, said that the committee needed to be flexible as the submission period coincided with the December holidays.

The Bill aims to address several issues affecting the sector, including:

Undocumented learners
Inclusion of sign language
Clarification of corporal punishment
Enhance HODs’ and MECs’ oversight role in admission and language policies

Improve governance at schools
Merger of schools
Searching of learners for drugs
Making grade R compulsory

Aligning homeschooling and public schooling
Setting provisions that are not provided for in the legislation

The BELA Bill has already faced widespread criticism from opposition political parties and civic groups, especially regarding the new language and admission policies.

The new policy states that a school governing body (SGB) must submit the language policy of any public school and any amendment thereof to the Head of Department for approval.

Critics have argued that the government has ignored thousands of comments opposing the new provisions.

Arguments against the government having the final say on language and admission policies centre on the notion of power being taken away from SGBs and communities to decide what is best for their children and transferring it to politicians.

Trade Union Solidarity said that the new laws threaten African and mother tongue education, with the union threatening legal action against the laws.

The DA also said that it would take the Bill on legal review, arguing that the 5% of Afrikaans schools are being scapegoated for the government’s failure to provide quality education to children regardless of their race, religion, language or location.

Comments on the Bill can be submitted to Committee Secretary Noluthando Skaka via email: 

Despite the complaints that thousands of comments on the language policy were ignored, the Department of Basic Education dropped the clause which allowed South African schools to sell alcohol after hours following opposition during public hearings.

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Phillimon Sefake Phillimon Sefake is a creative writer and literary scholar