Categories: GovernmentNews
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2023-12-06 8:53 AM

South Africa’s Education Reform Bill Sparks Nationwide Controversy

By Miriam Matoma


The South African educational landscape faces a significant overhaul as the National Council of Province’s Select Committee on Education and Technology, Sports, Arts, and Culture deliberates on the Basic Education Laws Amendment Bill. This critical legislation, approved by the National Assembly in October, is currently open for public comment, steering discussions and debates across the nation.

Aimed at addressing various pivotal aspects of the education system, the Bill proposes multifaceted reforms, including the contentious mandate to make Grade R compulsory and the abolition of corporal punishment. Additionally, it seeks to establish robust financial and accountability frameworks for governing bodies and provincial departments, while also granting the government authoritative control over school admission and language policies.

Despite its approval by the National Assembly and the Portfolio Committee on Basic Education, the Bill remains in limbo, pending President Ramaphosa’s signature. However, even before its enactment, legal challenges have emerged, primarily centering on the provisions granting the government final authority over language and admission policies at schools.

The language policy outlined in the Bill mandates that school governing bodies must submit the language medium of a public school to the head of the department for approval, a clause that has sparked intense debate and opposition.

Throughout the legislative process, the Bill underwent extensive public engagement, including hearings in all nine provinces, reception of written submissions, and parliamentary hearings. However, critics vehemently argue that the Bill disregards numerous objections to the language provision, deeming it unconstitutional.

Solidarity, a prominent trade union, has threatened legal action, expressing concerns that the legislation jeopardizes African and mother tongue education. They assert that while they endorse educational reform, they vehemently oppose a Bill that disempowers schools, parents, and communities without adequately addressing fundamental challenges impeding quality education, such as overcrowding, poor literacy and numeracy rates, dropout rates, substandard school infrastructure, inadequate teaching quality, and resource scarcity.

The Democratic Alliance (DA), the principal opposition party, asserts that the government is unfairly singling out 5% of Afrikaans schools, laying blame for educational shortcomings at their doorstep. They emphasize that the government should focus on providing equitable quality education for all, irrespective of geographic location, race, religion, or language.

The window for public commentary on the Bill is set to close on Friday, 19 January 2024, at 16:00. Interested stakeholders and concerned citizens are encouraged to submit their opinions and feedback to belabill@parliament.gov.za.

Notably, the Bill has undergone alterations following public consultations. The Department of Basic Education heeded public sentiment and removed the clause permitting South African schools to sell alcohol after school hours. This particular provision garnered substantial opposition during the public hearings conducted by the portfolio committee on basic education.

The discourse surrounding the Basic Education Laws Amendment Bill underscores the complexities and diverse opinions shaping South Africa’s educational reformation. As the nation strives for a more inclusive and effective educational system, the Bill’s fate hangs in the balance, awaiting further public input and potential adjustments before its final implementation.

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Miriam Matoma

Miriam is a freelance writer, she covers economics and government news for Rateweb. You can contact her on: Email: miriam@rateweb.co.za Twitter: @MatomaMiriam