New school law/Bill:Allowing schools to sell alcohol outside of school hours.

The Basic Education Portfolio Committee, together with officials in the Department of Basic Education have been hosting several public engagements across all nine provinces to enhance public involvement on the Basic Education Laws Amendment Bill, commonly referred to as the BELA Bill.

The committee has up to now held successful public hearings in Limpopo, Free State, Northwest, Mpumalanga, Gauteng, and KwaZulu-Natal and recently the Western Cape as well.

Last weekend the team hosted a few consultations in the Cape Winelands District Municipality, where residents there had their say on the 56 amendments proposed.

Chief Director of Basic Education, James Ndlebe affirmed to stakeholders that the main purpose of the bill is to improve the overall quality and effectiveness of basic education in the country.

According to the committee, the bill received mixed reactions, particularly in regard to proposed changes to School Governing Bodies (SGB’s) and the homeschooling system.

A view was expressed that parents should be trusted to act in the best interest of their children — something which, according to some participants, is lacking in the Bella Bill currently. 

Those who supported the bill said that its transformative intentions will improve the quality of the education system, particularly for those from poor households.

They expressed that the proposal for the inclusion of heads of departments in determining language and admission policies at schools will lead to less discriminatory practices allegedly shown by some SGBs.

Meanwhile, some residents called for the bill to include a clear clause that would assure them that they would not be compelled to use the public school’s curriculum for home-schooling.

They further argued that the bill primarily intends to take power away from SBGs to determine language and admission policies, which undermines mother-tongue education, primarily Afrikaans.

What is the BELA bill?

The Basic Education Laws Amendment Bill (BELA Bill) is a legislative proposal in South Africa that aims to amend certain laws related to basic education.

The BELA Bill was first introduced in Parliament in 2017 and aims to make a host of changes to schools in South Africa, including proposals such as giving the government the final say over language policies at schools, as well as allowing schools to sell alcohol after-hours at non-school related activities.

Some of the key amendments that the bill aims to make include:

  • Making grade R the new compulsory school starting age, as opposed to grade 1, as is currently the case.
  • Forcing home-schooled learners to be registered for this type of schooling.
  • Criminalising parents who do not ensure their child or children are in school, with fines or jail time up to 12 months.
  • Holding school governing bodies more accountable for disclosures of financial interests – including those related to their spouses and family members.
  • Prohibiting educators from conducting business with the state or being a director of public or private companies conducting business with the state.
  • Abolishing corporal punishment and initiation/hazing practices.
  • Allowing schools to sell alcohol outside of school hours.
  • Giving government department heads power over language policies and the curriculums a school must adopt.

The committee says that majority rejected clause 37 of the bill adding that the there was a strong emphasis made that children are the responsibility of the parents and not the state.

 They further argued that the Bill currently seeks to usurp this responsibility thereby interfering on parents and children’s rights that are enshrined in the Constitution. 

Parents argued that the drafters of the Bill did not do enough research nor a socio-economic impact assessment on the impact of the Bill on the education system

Furthermore, participants told the department to go back to the drawing board, engage parents and learners within the environment and draft a correct clause for the sector.