Would Basic Education Laws Amendment Bill benefit all?

Dr. Sheetal Bhoola is a lecturer and researcher at The University of Zululand, and the director at StellarMaths (Phoenix & Sunningdale). Picture: Supplied

Dr. Sheetal Bhoola is a lecturer and researcher at The University of Zululand, and the director at StellarMaths (Phoenix & Sunningdale). Picture: Supplied

Published Mar 1, 2024



South Africans are questioning the intent and primary objectives of the Basic Education Laws Amendment.

Some of the amendments include that parents could be criminalised for not ensuring their children are enrolled at a school; Grade R would be the compulsory school year; parents would have to adhere to new homeschooling provisions; the language policy of the school would need to be approved by the Education Department; corporal punishment would be abolished; schools should become sensitive to the religious beliefs of their learners; and alcohol could be sold on school premises for private events.

The intended purpose of the amendments is to benefit South Africans. Some of the amendments proposed have not been rigorously assessed and evaluated about how effectively the regulations would be managed and set regularly by the provincial and national departments of education.

The bill amendments have been stipulated to South Africans, without providing tje relevant information. Citizens have been denied access to the detailed implementation policies and procedures, time frames and budget drafts accompanying the amendments.

The educational system’s challenges are numerous and dire. Some of the challenges include the overcrowding of classrooms, lack of adequate resources and infrastructure, poor numeracy and literacy rates, and an increasing number of school drop-outs.

Budgets previously allocated are yet to be managed efficiently to address the areas appropriately. The bill pays minimal attention to the challenges, and the new amendments require additional resources for the implementation process.

For example, the detailed budget for the implementation process of Grade R becoming the mandatory year of starting school and where and when it would begin, was not shared.

Citizens have been presented with an incomplete picture. As a result, we are not informed, even though we value public participation, transparency and inclusivity as a governance approach.

NPOs, NGOs and other religious, educational and social organisations have rallied by creating an online petition survey. Citizens can indicate their opposition through a digital study of telecommunication and social media platforms.

Founder of MBT Destiny Fulfilled (NPO) Pastor Michelle Tryon has taken it upon herself to share the opposing views of the organisation regularly via social media platforms. She ardently believes that the dispersion of full disclosure of pertinent information is central to developing a better society.

I believe that a central governance hub would be problematic. First, each school has its own contextual culture, communication and operation ethos, with a governing body comprising parents. In addition, their challenges and problem-solving methodologies are unique to the community and way of life of the people of a particular school.

The bill also proposes that primary schools with fewer than 135 learners and secondary schools with fewer than 200 learners be closed. The rationale supporting the proposal is that the schools are poorly attended for various reasons and that the budget to maintain such schools could be used elsewhere.

However, this is also in contradiction to the mandate to make education accessible to all. Learners in rural areas would be primarily impacted as schools within their areas are few and far from one another.

The proposition that a Grade 10 to 12 learner (15 to 18-year-olds) no longer needs to be at school has the potential to contribute towards the growing youth crime statistics. Recent academic research has indicated that there is a nexus between youth unemployment, low education levels and youth deviance and crime.

Akinola & Ahonba (2023) published an academic research study discussing related issues. Their publication is “Youth Unemployment and Rising Crime Rate in South Africa: Does Governance Matter?”.

Youth with low educational levels are at the back of the queue when competing for employment opportunities in a challenging and competitive economy. Journalist Murphy Nganga (2022) stated in the “Cape Argus”, the need for government intervention to curb the growing number of children entangled in a life of deviance and crime in the Western Cape.

Lee Rondganger (2023), in an online publication (www.iol.co.za), explained that youth crime and violence in South Africa have reached one of the highest statistics in the world. Scholarly research has indicated that the leading causes of high youth unemployment statistics are the lack of relevant skills and education, minimal work opportunities, exploitation of child labour and corruption.

Samir Naik (2020) reported in the “Saturday Star” that South African children were responsible for approximately 800 murders in 2020. The children were between the ages of 10 and 17.

Deviance and criminal activities have always been closely associated with alcohol consumption, drugs and the formation of youth gangs. The proposed bill is permissive of the consumption and storage of alcohol on school premises for private events.

The amendment, which permits 15-year-olds not to be at school, combined with this regulation amendment, could be detrimental to the youth. Access to alcohol could easily lead to increased consumption of alcohol by youth as well as deviant activities as a means of survival.

This is hugely problematic in a society that has been deemed of the most alcohol-consuming populations in the world. In addition, we are challenged with societal pressures which have normalised alcohol consumption in young adults and teenagers.

Public participatory initiatives have allowed South Africans to be vocal about their concerns but the impact of the initiatives is yet to be determined and assessed.

Some of the amendments should be scrutinised, and their long-term impact re-evaluated. The proposal to permit alcohol consumption on school premises and to permit 15-year-old teenagers not to be at school could be detrimental to a society that needs to curb crime, deviance and corruption.

Schools also play a pivotal role in educating our children about good citizenry behaviour, social norms and regulations, ethics, morality and judiciary. Therefore, the proposal to permit alcohol consumption on school premises contradicts what we teach and value.

Each amendment should be further articulated, scrutinised and considered in the context of our socio-economic circumstances and social normative practices that have become dominant.

The amendment should consider the long-term aim of developing youth and South Africa into a progressive society free of all forms of criminality. This is a pivotal means to ensure we strive towards an equitable and just society.

Dr. Sheetal Bhoola is a lecturer and researcher at the University of Zululand, and the director at StellarMaths (Phoenix & Sunningdale).

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