Thought that as a parent you had the right to make decisions about your child’s education? Not when the proposed Basic Education Laws Amendment Bill becomes a reality. Dr Jaco Deacon, education law specialist and Deputy CEO of the Federation of Governing Bodies of South African Schools (FEDSAS) says if ordinary South Africans fail to exercise their democratic duty now there are dark days ahead.
State control that goes directly against democracy – that is the primary characteristic of the proposed Basic Education Laws Amendment Bill announced by the Minister of Basic Education on 13 October this year. This Bill is aimed at, amongst others, limiting certain functions of school governing bodies, including being able to make recommendations about certain appointments, admission and language policies as well as certain financial functions.
As part of South Africa’s new constitutional dispensation a deliberate move away from the model of state schools was made. In the instance of a state school model the State decides about and controls everything. Instead, the South African Schools’ Act allows for the creation of public schools; schools with full legal personality governed by school communities through democratically elected governing bodies. We have 23 719 public schools with some 285 000 members of governing bodies that form a system so important that is was described in a Constitutional Court judgment as a “beacon of grassroots democracy”.
According to the Constitution every South African has the right to basic education, which the State has to provide. In practical terms this means that the State has four duties:
With the implementation of the Schools’ Act and the duties and responsibilities it affords to governing bodies, another key responsibility was added, namely to train governing bodies. In this regard provincial departments have failed dismally and very little has been done to provide sufficient training and support to governing bodies. Unfortunately the State did not obtain distinctions in any of the other four responsibilities either!
The proposed amendments take us back to a model where the State controls everything. It goes against every principle of public education and democracy in general in will not contribute in any way towards increasing the quality of education in the country. In fact, the opposite is true.
The proposed amendments are a direct violation of parents’ right to have a say in the education of their children. In addition, the amendments nullify the so-called partnership that should exist between the State, educators and parents. The Bill ignores a number of important judgements by the Constitutional Court that confirm the authority of governing bodies.
The well-known saying, “It takes a village to raise a child” emphasises the role of the community in the education of children and the fact that school communities should take ownership of this responsibility. The State now prefers to exchange the “village” for an official “somewhere” in an office. Someone who does not understand the needs nor the heartbeat of a community, someone with nothing to lose and no one to hold them accountable. Someone who can move school principals around like chess pieces and place schools in a checkmate position!
One of the stipulations sounds very noble – to increase imprisonment from six months to six years should parents neglect to send their children to school. Unfortunately I am not aware of even a single person who was sentenced to the current six months. Another stipulation is that all educators have to declare their financial interests and that their spouse or partner has to do the same – a gross violation of all non-educators’ right to privacy!
I hope by this time you are sitting up and taking notice as this is not only an assault on schools but an assault on our societal order. The State wants to take a short-cut with difficult challenges in schools. Instead of doing the hard work of fixing what is wrong, the State now aims to force 100% of our children into the 20% of properly functioning schools. It is indeed an ugly day when public schools become state schools again.
Who is going to be the voice for our children? Schools and governing bodies will comment on the Bill, but the actual voting power lies with ordinary South Africans who should now voice their concern without hesitation.
FEDSAS has launched a campaign on social media with the hashtag #StopSchoolCapture. The public has until 10 November to comment and FEDSAS encourages all South Africans to comment. A copy of the Bill is available on the FEDSAS website at www.fedsas.org.za under the link “What is new?”.
This article was published in Afrikaans on LitNet on Thursday 26 October 2017. Read it on LitNet at: