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A Deep Dive into The Controversial Bella Bill

Annisa Essack | kzn@radioislam.org.za
27 February 2024 | 13:00 CAT
5 min read

Section 27 has embraced the opportunity to provide input on the latest iteration of the Basic Education Laws Amendment Bill, known as the 2023 Bela Bill. As this Bill moves to the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) for consideration, Section 27 has actively engaged in the process, sharing written submissions with all nine provincial legislatures. Jonathan West from Section 27 joined Radio Islam International to shed light on the Bill’s key aspects.

West emphasised that the South African Schools Act has been stagnant since its inception in 1996 and must be effectively transformed to meet learners’ educational needs. West stated that the Bela Bill is critical in addressing the long-standing inequalities within South Africa’s education sector.

The Bill, however, has garnered concern, especially on social media, regarding the potential erosion of governing bodies’ powers.

ROLE OF THE DEPARTMENT HEAD

Addressing the concern, West said that the current debate about decentralisation was related to a section in the Bill that gives department heads the task of supervising language and admissions policies. However, he explained that it was important to note that schools still had the power to make their own policies. The role of department heads was to ensure accountability rather than making policies.

“What’s now happening is once they’ve made their own policies, they then just have to send it to the head of department, and the head of department can’t arbitrarily choose to approve or disapprove of the policy. The head of department has some requirements and some things that they need to look at before they can approve or disapprove of the policy. So, it’s just creating a form of accountability.”

HOMESCHOOLING

On the contentious issue of homeschooling, particularly around religious communities, he explained that the Bill’s purpose was to regulate homeschooling institutions while ensuring standards and safeguarding against topics such as child abuse, assuring that it did not intend to control the content within religious homeschooling communities.

“So, what the Bill has to do is just seeking to bring some regulation to the homeschooling sector. So, it’s not looking to, again, it’s not looking for HODs to control what your child is learning at the homeschool, but rather just to have oversight over it for homeschools to be registered and to be checked. And is not necessarily aimed at sort of Muslim communities who are going about their business diligently and teaching their children well at home.”

He further iterated that the Bill aimed to address concerns about unregistered homeschooling institutions.

“Because these bodies are unregulated, these homeschooling bodies are unregulated. It’s very hard to get the state to intervene. So, this regulation of the homeschooling sector isn’t seeking to control homeschooling. It won’t control necessarily the curriculum of homeschooling. It will just have a checkup on the curriculum.”

MANDATORY GRADE R

Regarding making Grade R mandatory, West acknowledged this was the case, as research showed that providing basic education at an earlier age led to greater long-term advantages. However, he assured that parents would still have the right to evaluate their child’s preparedness for Grade R without being held accountable.

“Yes, so Grade R is becoming compulsory. It is true. It’s been shown that longterm education outcomes are far better when education has started at an early age. However, this was discussed at the oral hearing yesterday. If your child is not ready for Grade R, if they haven’t reached that level of maturity, or you’re concerned about social aspects or academic aspects, and you prevent your child or withhold your child from going to Grade R, there will be no liability on the parent.”

SEX EDUCATION

Sexual education, another thorny issue and topic of concern, sparked much debate. West clarified that the Bela Bill focused on amending the South African Schools Act, not the curriculum.

“The first thing I’d like to say in terms of comprehensive sexual education, the Bela Bill will amend SASSA and not CAPS. So, CAPS is the regulation that deals with curriculum, and Bela has nothing to do with curriculum, nothing at all.”

He added that the primary objective of the rules regarding sexual education was to enable pregnant learners to access education and continue their studies without any obstacles.

“Where this comes from, is there is a clause 39 which says the minister may make regulations regarding learner pregnancy. So that’s where a lot of this abortion stuff is coming from. And in order to understand this, we need to understand that when that minister decides to make those regulations, there will be a whole public consultation process. It won’t just be an arbitrary uniform, unilateral decision made by the minister on the pregnancy.”

He also stated that this approach would help counter misinformation about comprehensive sexual education and ensure that learners received accurate information.

IMPORTANCE OF CITIZEN ENGAGEMENT

West stressed the importance of public engagement and mentioned attending public hearings, familiarising oneself with the Bill, and submitting substantive feedback, as the Portfolio Committee on Education in the NCOP would consider all submissions before finalising the Bill. Your voice matters in shaping South Africa’s educational landscape.

“So, we really need public engagement with this Bill. And, if you have issues, if you have concerns, I recommend you read the Bill thoroughly and bring those concerns with the substantive basis so that you know which clause you’re upset about and give your reasons for it.”

As South Africa navigates the complexities of educational reform, informed dialogue and active participation will be crucial to ensure inclusive and effective policies.

Listen to the interview with Sulaimaan Ravat and Jonathan West on Sabahul Muslim here.

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