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Controversy surrounds implementation of Gender-Responsive Pedagogy in South African Early Childhood Education

Azra Hoosen | ah@radioislam.co.za
3 April 2024 | 13:30 CAT
4 min read

The Department of Basic Education (DBE) is at the center of a heated debate regarding its decision to introduce the Gender-Responsive Pedagogy for Early Childhood Education (GRP4ECE), also known as the ECE Toolkit.

Developed with a R40 million grant from VVOB and aimed at promoting transgender ideology and gender diversity among children aged 0 to 9, the initiative has sparked opposition from various religious, cultural, and educational groups.

Despite concerns about parental rights, the DBE has proceeded with implementation, asserting it as a strategy to combat gender-based violence (GBV). Critics argue that the approach could exacerbate societal divisions and entrench GBV. Calls for dialogue and a contextualised approach persist amid ideological clashes between the DBE and opposing groups.

Michael Swain, Executive Director of Freedom of Religion South Africa (FOR SA), discussed the DBE’s decision in an interview with Radio Islam.

Swain pointed out that the Department had established a dedicated unit called the ‘Directorate of Social Inclusion and Equity in Education’. This unit utilised overseas funding to develop the teacher training toolkit aimed at pre-primary and primary school educators.

A coalition comprising senior religious leaders from the United Ulema Council of South Africa (UUCSA), The Evangelical Alliance of South Africa (TEASA), Inkululeko Yeziswe Association (IYA), Freedom of Religion South Africa (FOR SA), and the South African Community of Faith-based Fraternals and Federations (SACOFF), collectively approached the DBE to express their concerns. They highlighted that the initiative had not been rolled out transparently with parents, characterising it as an ideological imposition of transgender ideologies into public schools without parental knowledge or consent. The coalition urged the DBE to cease these actions.

“They basically rolled it out in at least five provinces that we know of. This is an ideological thing that they are doing, by mainstreaming transgender ideologies into public schools without parents’ knowledge or consent, and they need to stop,” said Swain.

The coalition proposed to the DBE the establishment of a ‘family values unit’ that would incorporate a diverse range of perspectives rather than promoting a singular stream of ideology.

“Teachers are being trained to teach these kids to break free from harmful gender stereotypes that hold them back in life that their family or religious community would have taught them; they are being told to ask learners from this age for their preferred names and their pronouns, and are trained to use they/them pronouns because this and I quote ‘lets children know we cannot assume someone’s identity just by looking at them’; they want to encourage children to use toilet facilities that correspond with their gender identity, and I could go on. But what is very clear is this is transgederism. This teaching directly contradicts what many parents are teaching their children, and the ideology that they are mainstreaming here is not medically proven; it is certainly scientifically disputed and is contrary to the faiths and beliefs of the vast majority of South Africans,” he emphasised.

According to Swain, the DBE has no justification for doing this.

He highlighted that the DBE’s justification for implementing the program, citing the prevention of gender-based violence and promotion of inclusivity in the classroom, is misleading. Additionally, the DBE’s equating parental teachings of ideologies or faith with ‘bullying’ is seen as a flawed comparison.

“One of the fundamentals of the education policy is that they have recognised, rightfully so, because it is an international and national law, the inalienable right of parents to educate their own children and pass their values on to their own children; by going against this, we believe what they are doing is unlawful. They are doing this deliberately and have doubled down on this,” he said.

Swain emphasised that despite their appeals to the department to halt this training and engage in consultations with parents, the DBE maintains its position that it has the authority to proceed with the rollout. The DBE intends to continue implementing the program irrespective of opposition from parents and religious leaders.

The Department of Basic Education (DBE) has also asserted that public participation is unnecessary and not under consideration. However, FOR SA and various other religious, cultural, and educational groups strongly disagree. They believe it is imperative that public participation occurs and is carefully considered, especially given that the ECE Toolkit aims to educate pre-primary and primary school educators on promoting transgender ideology to young children aged 0 to 9 years.

FOR SA has provided information on its website, accessible at https://www.forsa.org.za/, for concerned parents to visit and voice their opinions on the issue. Swain is urging all members of the public to promptly express their thoughts on the training toolkit via a form, which can be accessed here: https://dearsouthafrica.co.za/ece-toolkit/

LISTEN to the full interview with Muallimah Annisa Essack and Michael Swain, Executive Director of Freedom of Religion South Africa (FOR SA), here.

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