ACDP says DBE wasting money promulgating Home Education Policy prematurely

ACDP MP Cheryllyn Dudley said today that “DBE will be wasting money if the Minister promulgates the Policy on Home Education prematurely. There has been a fundamental misunderstanding between DBE and home education stakeholders resulting in a situation where the Minister of Basic Education is about to promulgate a Policy that is the result of a failed consultation process.”

The DBE claims that home educators rejected a key discussion document. However, the ACDP is in possession of extensive documentation that shows that home education stakeholders were positively disposed to the principles and processes outlined in the document.”

The first consultation meeting with the home education community and other key stakeholders was held in October 2014.

Dudley said “The ACDP played a significant role in facilitating this consultation.”

In a Portfolio Committee on Basic Education in 2012 the Department of Basic Education (DBE) stated that “the Department is currently developing policy in respect of home schooling”. In a follow-up to this statement, Cheryllyn Dudley, MP, ACDP, asked the Minister of Basic Education when the department projected releasing the policy for comment. The Minister responded that the draft policy would be available in April/May 2013, as the formulation of such a policy required extensive consultation.

Dudley confirmed that the Association for Homeschooling then approached her to ask the Minister who the DBE had contacted during the consultation process and the Minister disclosed that no homeschooling organisations had been consulted, but that the department was willing to consult with homeschooling organisations. Initial consultations then took place in 2014 and 2015.

“During the second consultation with stakeholders in July 2015 a discussion document was presented and a working group was set up involving all stakeholders. Home educators say they did not ‘disagree’ with the document – as DBE had reported – and in fact the document was “received positively”. It was only when DBE officials ignored the processes outlined in the document which the Department itself had drawn up that the home schooling participants withdrew from the process.”

In 2018 this policy was approved by Heads of Education Department Committee (HEDCOM) and the CEM. The Department is currently preparing a gazette for promulgation.

Dudley said “The Department’s statement that “a small grouping is opposed to the policy and has been spamming departmental officials requesting that the policy not be promulgated is irresponsible. The Department’s admission that they regard the serious efforts of this community to make their voice heard – as spam – is shocking. Parliament is always encouraging people to get involved with the legislative process and it is unacceptable that departments treat these very same people with such disdain when they do participate. What they refer to as a ‘small group’ is in fact made up of those most affected by this policy, those who have the most experience in this field and those actually successfully homeschooling their children.”

The Department says they consider the consultation process to have been extensive and all-encompassing and that “the Department of Basic Education is confident that all comments on the policy have been adequately ventilated”.

Dudley said “claims by DBE that the home education community withdrew from the process because they completely rejected a document while the home education community say they received the same document in a positive spirit surely requires further investigation. Especially since the Publication of a government gazette is an expensive exercise. To continue to prepare a gazette for promulgation when it is clear that the department is proceeding on the basis of a fundamental misunderstanding would constitute a significant waste of resources at a time when the Department is under significant financial pressure.

“The ACDP calls on the Minister to investigate this misunderstanding and to take the time to bridge the gap that exists between themselves and home school educators. In fact this goes beyond just those who are actively involved in home schooling and is an issue the broader Christian and other religious communities feel very passionately about.”

The ACDP also calls on the Basic Education Portfolio Committee to address this issue with the department and seriously interrogate the department’s handling of such an obviously important section of society during this review process.”

Dudley said “ this would be an opportunity for parliament to show their commitment to protecting the public’s right to be heard and to be seen to be taken seriously in the processes of the department and parliament.”

GHEC 2018 a success

“You CAN homeschool!”

Congratulations to the organisers of the GHEC 2018, and especially to the Russian hosts, thanks to whose hard work hundreds of Russian and international homeschoolers could attend the conference in St Petersburg and in Moscow.

GHEC 2018 was a fascinating learning experience. It was such a privilege to have been able to meet and converse with well-known leaders and researchers from all over the world, and what is more, on Russian soil!

The message “You CAN homeschool!” was proclaimed by a large variety of speakers, who dealt with a very wide spectrum of homeschooling topics: policy and policymakers, legislation, practical aspects, approaches to homeschooling, curriculum and national standards, insights from homeschool graduates, international research on homeschooling, homeschooling and the family and community, and socialisation. Plenary sessions were open to all attendees, and then a number of workshops were run concurrently. The proceedings will be made available online in time.

Homeschooling in Russia

For homeschooling in Russia the GHEC 2018 has been an especially significant: home education is legal in Russia, and homeschoolers consequently experience little official resistance. However, with a view to possible future conflict, it was of particular consequence that eminent political and church figures took part in the conference and publicly voiced their support of home education.

GHEX established

As a continuation and a confirmation of the ideals of the GHEC organisers, a new organisation was founded: the GHEX (Global Home Education Exchange Council). In addition to organising the Global Home Education Conferences, the GHEX will be able to contribute expertise internationally on various levels and support homeschooling organisations globally.

Africa Home Education Conference planned for 2019

The Pestalozzi Trust was founded in 1998, and will turn 21 in 2019. An upshot of having been able to meet with representatives of Africa in person during the GHEC 2018 is that we now can look forward to hosting, together with the East Africa Community of Homeschoolers, an Africa Home Education Conference, to coincide with the coming of age of the Pestalozzi Trust, in 2019. Homeschoolers from Kenya, Uganda and the United Arab Emirates are keen to take part in the Africa Conference. Various international speakers have also already indicated that they would like to participate in the Africa Conference. We hope to involve homeschoolers from across Africa and South Africa in the conference.

Position of South Africa

South Africa fortunate to have a legal defence fund: the Pestalozzi Trust

Homeschooling legal defence funds exist only in the US, Canada and South Africa. A legal defence fund is necessary in South Africa, where the state has shown itself ready to impose severe restrictions on home schooling. Compared to countries like the US, Canada, UK and Russia, the home schooling environment is much freer than in South Africa. On the other hand there are countries in which home schooling is illegal or severely restricted, like Sweden, Norway and Germany. Other countries, like Brazil and Poland, are battling in court to change their existing laws in favour of homeschooling.

South Africa has expertise, but needs much more research

Although South Africa is a small country, with a relatively small number of home schoolers, leaders and researchers, South Africa does have valuable expertise. From various discussions with leading researchers on homeschooling it became clear that South Africa urgently needs more research done with South African data.

Three representatives from South Africa, viz Bouwe van der Eems, myself (Karin van Oostrum) and Megan Puchert, presented talks during the conference. Bouwe spoke on Homeschooling in South Africa in St Petersburg and Moscow, and Megan on the Best Interests of the Child in Moscow. Megan also took part in the International Research and Practice Conference dedicated to Parental Rights and Homeschooling at the Moscow State University on the 17th of May, 2018, which Bouwe and I also attended as observers. I spoke on Challenges Facing Homeschoolers, and also on the Charlotte Mason approach in St Petersburg. The workshop on Getting Started in Moscow, in which I again spoke on Challenges Facing Homeschoolers, was met with a multitude of unanswered questions by the Russian homeschoolers. It was wonderful to be able to communicate with them, with the friendly help of a mom who was also a translator, to simply share our experiences and things we learnt through the years. My daughters were also able to answer questions and share their own homeschooling experience with the moms.

The Value of Family

As a symbol of the importance of the family, the Russian hosts of the GHEC 2018 presented each board member country with a set of Matryoschka Russian stacking dolls. If you look carefully, you’ll see that this set of dolls differs from the traditional set of dolls. They represent a family: the outer doll consists of a father, and the mother and a number of children are inside the large outer father doll.

In Russia the leaders in the home schooling movement are also involved in Russian and international advocacy bodies for the family. Russian political and church leaders at the GHEC 2018 see home education as part of a return to sound family values and practices. Many families need family skills – they don’t know how to function in a family, how to be a mother and how to be a father. Somehow the school culture seems to disorientate parents and to deprive them of their self-confidence.

Children and babies impart a very special atmosphere to a homeschooling meeting – and serve to remind us that THEY are the real reason for the meeting. It was heartwarming to see that quite a number of speakers and attendees brought along their babies, as well as their adult and small children, to the conference.

We attended the GHEC 2016 as a family: Leendert and I took our two youngest daughters with us to the conference in Rio. It was a marvellous family experience. When the GHEC board resolved that the next GHEC would be held in Russia, we decided that we would, God willing, again attend it as a family. It took some careful saving, but our youngest two daughters, Uda and Katrina, managed to accompany me to the GHEC 2018. It has been great fun to attend this magnificent conference and explore a new country together.

Next GHEC in the Philippines

The next GHEC (2020 or 2021) will be held in the Philippines. The GHEC flag was handed by Alexey Komov, our Russian host to Edric Mendoza, who will, God willing, be our host in the Philippines. Long live home schooling!

GHEC 2018 in Russia

Representatives of the South African home education community will be attending the GHEC 2018 from 15 to 19 May, 2018, in Russia.

While education authorities from South Africa are attempting to impose more restrictions on home educating families, the home schooling movement is experiencing an enormous growth worldwide. Mike Donnelly, Director of Global Outreach, HSLDA, estimates that 0.4% of the total school age population globally (about 4% in the United States) are being home-schooled.

GHEC 2018 15-19 May, 2018

From 15 to 19 May, 2018 homeschoolers from around the world will meet first in St Petersburg and then in Moscow for the Global Home Education Conference 2018. Organization leaders, policy makers, government officials, elected representatives, parents, students, and researchers will be attending the conference. Russian homeschooling families of all philosophies and faiths will also be included. This is the third Global Home Education Conference, and the theme of the conference is “You CAN homeschool!” The first GHEC was held in Berlin in 2012, and the second one in Rio de Janeiro in 2016. For those who missed the first two conferences, conference materials are still available on their websites for both conferences. Proceedings of the GHEC 2018 will be available after the conference.

Influence public policy

“One of our goals has been to influence public policy by promoting an understanding of the value of home education and the necessity for it to be acknowledged as a human right. The GHEC has provided a much-needed forum to cultivate awareness about home education, its legal framework, social and academic research, and practical experience around the world. We have drafted international declarations including the 2012 (Berlin Declaration) and 2016 (Rio Principles) statements which have been used by advocates all over to impact policy in many countries,” says Donnelly in the HSLDA article “As Homeschooling Grows Globally, Challenges Grow with it”.

International mission led by Gerald Huebner

Gerald Huebner, homeschooling leader from Canada, and chairman of the organising committee of the GHEC 2018, and his team left Canada on the 1st of May, 2018 on an international mission to Ukraine, Belarus and Russia as a prelude to the GHEC 2018. They will join the GHEC 2018 in St Petersburg and Moscow, before returning home. To join his team of prayer warriors, please send an e-mail to prayforghec@gmail.com.

South Africa at the GHEC 2018

South Africa will also be represented at the GHEC 2018. We are counting the days and looking forward to this very exciting opportunity for networking. God willing, Bouwe van der Eems and Karin van Oostrum from the Pestalozzi Trust will be attending the conference, as well as Shirley Erwee and Megan Puchert. Megan completed two law degrees in South Africa, namely the B Juris and LLB degrees. She is currently in the process of completing the Masters’ degree in Law with specialization in Family Law. She is an ex-State Prosecutor who specialized in child abuse matters and is an admitted Advocate of the High Court of South Africa. Megan has been a home educating mother during the last 14 years and has been involved in leadership positions within the home education community. She submitted a research paper to the research track, which was awarded the second prize, and for which she received a grant from the GHEC board.

Symposium on Parental Rights and Education, Moscow City University

Adv Puchert and representatives of the Pestalozzi Trust will also participate in a symposium on Parental Rights and Education, at the Moscow City University, on Thursday 17th May.  It has been organised as a special outreach to the Russian educational leadership community.

The first battle in the war against freedom in education

After home education was legalised in 1996, it has grown exponentially for about 20 years. In this period it has made a difference in the lives of thousands of families. Children could develop their personality in a safe environment and receive an education that was adapted to their individual needs. In this period there were a few attempts by the state to interfere in home education, but the mere existence of a legal defence fund (Pestalozzi Trust) prohibited officials to follow through with these attempts. This started changing in 2011 and resulted in the publication of Basic Education Laws Amendment Bill (BELA Bill) in 2017.

Exponential growth

In 1996 there were about 50 homeschooling families in South Africa. In 2011 a question on home education was included in the national census. According to the results, 56 857 learners received home education in South Africa. If all these learners were to be accommodated in schools it would require 130 schools, 2000 teachers at a cost of R700 million per year. Using this result, the 2017 estimate is that there are about 100 000 home learners.

Because the majority of these home learners were not registered with the state, there was pressure on the Department of Basic Education (DBE) to review the home education policy in order to satisfy the desire of the education minister to bring home education in conformance with “the formal education system”.

Invited to be ignored

Because a new policy requires public participation, representatives from homeschool associations and the Pestalozzi Trust were invited to meetings with the Department of Basic Education (DBE) in October 2014 and July 2015. Many of the associations were sceptic about attending these meetings, because it often happens that the DBE pretends to consult with stakeholders while steamrolling a pre-determined outcome. Regardless of the valid reasons for scepticism, the associations decided to attend the meetings as an act of good faith. The meetings were generally experienced as positive with ample opportunity for interactive discussion and present the case for home education.

After these two meetings, the actual drafting process was started by the Working Groups. Three people from homeschooling organisations received invites to these meetings in their personal capacities. Before the 1st workgroup meeting on 14 October 2015 an agenda and a Progress Report was distributed. The progress report makes the following statement : “Government remains the ultimate guardian of each and every child in the country and this includes the responsibility of ensuring that every child receives education.” These statements caused the invitees to become increasingly concerned that the purpose of the working group meeting was not to consult with stakeholders, but to use stakeholders merely to provide legitimacy to a pre-determined outcome. During the working group meetings these concerns were confirmed, and after the 2nd meeting all the homeschoolers withdrew from the workgroup activities. It was clear to all that the homeschool organisations were invited merely to be ignored.

BELA Bill and the Avalanche

Whereas a flawed public participation process was followed in drafting the home education policy, there was no public participation on home education involved in the drafting of the Basic Education Laws Amendment Bill (BELA Bill). On 13 October 2017, the DBE invited public comment on the BELA Bill. Homeschool organisations did not receive any prior notification about this and the public was given less than a month to submit comments.  If a vigilant home educator did not notice this in a press article and alert organisations of home educators, the deadline for comment could easily have passed by without any comment or input from the home education community.

The most important changes that the bill introduces are the following:

  1. The content and skills of the curriculum to be used by home learners must be at least comparable to the national curriculum.
  2. Home learners must be assessed annually by registered assessors at their own cost.
  3. Home learners are not allowed to enrol for alternative matric qualifications such as Cambridge and GED.
  4. The penalty for not attending school is increased from 6 months to 6 years imprisonment.

The main objections to the BELA Bill were the following:

  1. The provision that home learners must register with the state is unreasonable and negatively affects the interests of children. It is untenable that parents, who are primarily responsible for the education of their children, require permission from the state to choose home education.
  2. The requirement that the proposed home education programme must cover contents and skills comparable to the national curriculum prohibits parents from choosing a curriculum or educational approach that would be in the best interests of the child, and which would not necessarily cover comparable skills and contents.
  3. The requirement for annual assessments by external assessors serves no educational purpose, covertly enforces the national curriculum and will be costly to homeschooling parents and the taxpayer.
  4. The provision to outlaw alternative matric qualifications such as Cambridge and GED would significantly limit the rights of young people that do not have a school leaving diploma to get access to further education and employment.

On 10 Nov 2017 the Pestalozzi Trust and all the homeschool associations submitted their comments on the BELA Bill to the DBE. A total of about 1000 letters from homeschoolers were sent to the DBE. An senior official described this response as an avalanche during a meeting in Parliament.

From the process followed and the content of the bill, it seems that the intention of the DBE is to gain control over home education as well as financially benefit unions and state compliant curriculum suppliers, without consulting homeschooling parents and without providing any evidence that such measures will be in the best interests of the affected children.

The long road to freedom

The introduction of this bill is the first battle in a war between the state and parents over the hearts and minds of their children. This war could last for decades and will be waged in all spheres of government namely the executive, legislative and judicial spheres. South African homeschooling parents will need to get involved to resist changes that negatively affect home education by using all opportunities to attend public meetings, writing letters, interacting with the media, talking to government officials and members of parliament, etc.

Home education is a type of education with a track record of success to prepare children to become independent and productive citizens in the 21st century. If parents allow the state to gain control over home education and manage it into destruction, as it has done with many departments and state owned entities, it will not only destroy the future of many children, but also seriously harm the hope for a better future in South Africa.

-by Bouwe van der Eems, Chairman: Pestalozzi Trust

Anonymous Comments on Draft Policy on Home Education Delivered!

After the publication of the Draft Policy on Home Education the Pestalozzi Trust undertook to deliver anonymous comments on the Draft Policy to Ms Phindile Ngcobo from the DBE. Many homeschooling and cottage schooling parents, as well as cottage school owners, sent in their comments on the Draft Policy. After having received many requests for extension of the cut-off date for comments, extension was granted by the DBE to the 31st of January, 2018. In line with this extension date the Pestalozzi Trust delivered these anonymous comments to Ms Ngcobo today.

The Draft Policy is an extremely important document, and will effect immense changes to the homeschooling landscape, if adopted in its present form.While seemingly building on a sound basis of protecting learners’ rights and those of their parents, the Draft Policy in the end fails to protect these rights and does not take into account the practise of home education. It would seriously constrict home education if adopted as is.

The Pestalozzi Trust and various associations made submissions on the Draft Policy: you may read the submission of the Pestalozzi Trust and the Annexure of the Pestalozzi Trust. The Submissions of the Association for Home Schooling and the Gauteng Association for Home Schooling were also sent in, as well as the submission of the Eastern Cape Home Schooling Association  and their Annexure.

Thank you to everyone who took the trouble to formulate an opinion on this matter and sent in their comments on the Draft Policy on Home Education. This had to done very soon after comments on the BELA Bill had to be submitted to the DBE. Although little time was granted to study them, these two documents and their publication are of great consequence for the future of home education in South Africa.

The Pestalozzi Trust will keep its members updated on any developments regarding the Draft Policy on Home Education and the BELA Bill.

On 8 February 2018 we will be hosting a webinar for members on the topic “How a Bill becomes law and how the public can participate in the process”. The focus will be the BELA Bill and how homeschoolers can ensure that they enjoy the degree of public participation that is their duty and right. The Hon. Cheryllyn Dudley, MP and currently Chief Whip for the smaller parties, will be presenting the webinar. Information on the webinar has been sent to members of the Pestalozzi Trust. We are honoured that she is willing to share her knowledge and experience with us and we cannot think of a better person to guide us through the intricacies of the parliamentary process.