Meaningful public engagement should be an essential part of the law-making process. Public involvement cannot be meaningful in the absence of a willingness to consider all views expressed by the public. Unfortunately, the Department of Basic Education (DBE) has avoided engaging with home schoolers in a meaningful way.
Since the BELA Bill was published for public comment in 2017, the Pestalozzi Trust has tried to engage the DBE on the contents of the BELA Bill. Throughout 2018 the Pestalozzi Trust wrote to the DBE requesting the opportunity to meet with the Task Team that was considering the public submissions on the BELA Bill. Despite at one stage agreeing to this meeting the DBE never honoured this promise.
In the nearly 5 years since the BELA Bill was published for public comment representatives of the homeschooling movement have only been engaged with on the following occasions:
- A meeting between the Pestalozzi Trust and the then drafter of the Bill, Adv. Rudman (special advisor to the then Deputy-Minister) and Mr. Chris Leukes in 2017.
- One meeting in which the Minister of Basic Education met with representatives of
the Pestalozzi Trust in January 2020.
- A single roundtable meeting in February 2020 at which the Bill was expressly not on the agenda.
- A meeting with Adv. Ledwaba on 29 January 2021 on the Socio-Economic Impact Assessment (SEIA) of the BELA Bill. As an outcome of the meeting, the Pestalozzi Trust provided its own research to the DBE. This research was however not used in the SEIA.
The Minister at a feedback session to the Portfolio Committee on Basic Education (PCBE) on 8 February 2022, stated: “I met the homeschooling associations more than three times. We know what their business is. We know what their thinking is…” The homeschooling movement is only aware of the abovementioned meetings and the Minister was present at only two of those.
It is hard to believe that the DBE ‘knows the business’ or ‘thinking’ of home schooling when they have had so little engagement with home schoolers.
The Pestalozzi Trust has also written, on a consistent basis, to the DBE noting that this failure to engage meaningfully with home schoolers could lead to the BELA Bill being challenged in court.
Eventually, the DBE responded, in a limited way, to these requests, by instructing provinces to create joint liaison committees between the provincial education departments and homeschoolers. These JLCs, however, only meet regularly in Gauteng and the Western Cape, and many provinces do not even have functioning JLCs. Even in Gauteng and the Western Cape these JLCs do not have a proper legal status.
The BELA Bill is not discussed at these JLCs and they have no input into the Bill; so they are not a way to ensure meaningful engagement on the BELA Bill.
Selected members of these JLCs serve on the national task team that is advising on the home education regulations that the DBE wants issued once the BELA Bill passes into law. The DBE is using the current BELA Bill as the basis for these regulations and the home schoolers are arguing that alternative versions of the Bill should be considered as the Bill may not pass as proposed.
Parents in public schools are represented through School Governing Bodies and School Governing Body Associations on various structures established in terms of the National Education Policy Act (NEPA). When the Minister makes policy or law, NEPA requires that the Minister must consult bodies such as the Council of Education Ministers, the National Education and Training Council or the Education Labour Relations Council. The home education sector is not represented in any of these bodies.
In conclusion we can state that there has been no meaningful consultation with homeschoolers for the following reasons:
- Requests to meet with the task team reviewing the Bill were not entertained.
- The DBE has only met with homeschoolers on a very few occasions.
- Homeschoolers are not represented in formal structures that allow their views to be heard.
When making an oral or written submission to the Portfolio Committee on Basic Education or later in the second stage of public hearings conducted by the National Council of Provinces you can ask these Committees to engage meaningfully with home schoolers by taking note of the home schoolers’ submissions.
You can also ask for the following:
- If there is no functioning JLC in your province, ask that a JLC be established in your province. Check the status quo in your province with your provincial association.
- Ask that members from the JLC in your province serve on the national task team that is working on regulations.
- Request that the BELA Bill or the National Education Policy Act be amended to allow homeschoolers to have the same rights of representation that everyone else in the education sector has.
During hearings it has been stated that home schoolers must be subject to the provincial education department. If this statement is made in a hearing that you attend you can point out that it is unfair that homeschoolers should be subject to the provincial education department while they do not have the same right to representation that the SGBs, students and unions have. Clause 37 of BELA Bill should not be passed unless the law is changed to allow for representation of home schoolers. This should be done in the National Education Policy Act, which is not being considered at the moment. You could argue that it would be better for Clause 37 to be removed and a second Basic Education Laws Amendment Bill rather be drawn up that also amends the NEPA.