A New Home Education Policy for South Africa: Confrontation or Consultation?

On the 17th of November 2017 the Department of Basic Education (DBE) released a Draft Policy on Home Education and called for comments within 21 days. On the 16th of November 2018 the final policy was promulgated in the Government Gazette.

In the year between these dates the Pestalozzi Trust sought to avoid conflict with the DBE. This is and has been the course of action we always adopt: we always first try and resolve a conflict.

The Trust has repeatedly attempted to bridge the paradigm gap between the homeschooling movement and the DBE by requesting opportunities for meaningful consultation. The DBE repeatedly rebuffed these attempts. The Trust continued to show good faith even after the DBE claimed to have considered over 700 submissions in just over two months, after admitting that they only considered “progressive” comment. They even proceeded to print and distribute a booklet outlining the key provisions of the new draft Policy on Home Education before this Policy was presented to the Council of Education Ministers for approval.

The Policy on Home Education acknowledged only two concerns of the home education movement. Firstly, it clarified that home learners have the right to use any foreign exam for matric exemption. Secondly, the Policy stipulates that assessment by competent assessors need only be conducted at the end of each phase, and not annually. Neither of these concessions addressed the real concerns. Pressure on foreign matric exemption is now being applied from USAf and the need for “invigilation” has potentially replaced annual assessments.

The Ministry of Education and the Department have shown beyond any reasonable doubt that they do not wish to engage in a process of meaningful consultation. No person can now doubt whether the DBE has any intention of doing anything other than steam rolling their agenda through.

Based on the long history of interactions with the DBE this was no surprise to the Pestalozzi Trust. Now that the intentions of the DBE are clear, the Trust will implement its plans to move the battle to the next phase.

The policy of 1999

On the 7th of August 1998, Mr. Leendert van Oostrum, the then Chairman of the Pestalozzi Trust, when commenting on the Draft of the Home Education Policy, published in 1999, wrote: “According to our information the national Department of Education was requested on 13 June 1997 by HEDCOM, the committee of heads of education, to provide guidelines for the implementation of Sec 51. Since that date, representatives of home educators have regularly requested an opportunity for home schoolers to make inputs to inform the process. The Director-General undertook – in writing – that they would be consulted “at the appropriate time”. Now, on 6th August 1998, the representative organisations of home schoolers were unexpectedly presented with a draft policy document that the Department had taken 14 months to prepare. Homeschoolers were given 48 hours’ notice to respond. This is confrontation – not consultation.” On the 23rd of November 1999 the policy was promulgated by the Minister of Education. It did not differ substantially from the original draft policy.

The policy of 2018

In 2009 the Department of Education started the process of revising to Home Education Policy. That is when Ms. Mapaseka Letho from Department of Education requested Mr. Leendert van Oostrum to provide comments on the current policy and recommendations for revision. In 2014 and 2015 the DBE invited representatives of the homeschooling movement to attend meetings on a new home education policy. Representatives experienced the meetings as positive due to recommendations which the DBE made in its 2nd draft Discussion Document in 2015. This document proposed a way forward by means of a consultative relationship based on mutual trust, independent research and a process of consultation in which comment would be sought from the public on two occasions. It was positively received by the home education movement. The 2nd draft Discussion Document provided a ray of hope that there might be a willingness to listen to home educators’ concerns after 15 futile years.

However, in the working group meetings following this it soon became evident that the DBE was not going to implement any of the key suggestions and was in fact going to ignore their own draft document. Home education representatives began to conclude that the DBE had a pre-determined outcome in mind and that the 2nd draft Discussion Document was merely window dressing. Rather than being co-opted in this sham process the home education representatives withdrew. They made it clear that they would act as consultants to the DBE but would not allow their presence to be used as a means of legitimising an illegitimate process: a decision now vindicated by the publishing of the Policy on Home Education.

Despite the flawed consultation process, on the 17th of November 2017 the DBE released a Draft Policy on Home Education and called for comments within 21 days. Despite the short period, a total of about 740 letters were sent to the Department of Basic Education by the 8th of December. On the 16th of November 2018 the policy was promulgated by the Minister of Basic Education. It did not differ substantially from the original draft policy.

How does the 1999 Policy differ from the 2018 Policy?

In 1999 the public was given 48 hours to respond to a policy that took 14 months to prepare. The comment period was less than 1% of the preparation period. In 2017 the public was given 21 days to respond to a policy that took 8 years to prepare. Again, the comment period was 1% of the preparation period. In both cases there was no substantial difference between the draft policy that was published for comment and the final policy that was promulgated in the end.

Coercing home educators to comply with a policy that ignores their voices can only lead to more conflict, as Leendert van Oostrum stated in 1999: “This is confrontation – not consultation”. Since conflict with the state is not in the best interest of children, more than 90% of parents have chosen not to register to avoid conflict. The situation of the last 20 years will in all probability be repeated for the foreseeable future – at least while homeschoolers’ voices are being silenced and ignored.

Conclusion 

If the DBE’s goal with the revision and promulgation of the Home Education Policy had been to subdue and frighten the home educating movement in South Africa into blind submission, this goal has not been achieved. The promulgation of the Policy has merely made it clear that a vast paradigm shift and a better understanding of the phenomenon of home education will be required from the DBE before their Home Education Policy will be practicable and will indeed advance home education in South Africa. Home educators will never submit to inferior educational goals and needless administrative burdens, replicating those of the public school system, for their children and families, and will continue fighting for an equitable dispensation for home education in South Africa.

by Bouwe van der Eems (Chairman: Pestalozzi Trust)

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