Reference: Published by Staff Writer (BusinessTech), 27 October 2023
The controversial Basic Education Laws Amendment (BELA) Bill and the Upstream Petroleum Development Bill have been adopted by the National Assembly.
The BELA Bill has been scrutinized by education stakeholders and has raised much debate about the government’s plans to centralize and control access to education in South Africa.
On September 26, the Portfolio Committee on Basic Education approved the bill.
While the bill will make a number of changes to South African schools, including widely supported amendments such as making Grade R compulsory and abolishing corporal punishment, provisions giving the government ultimate control over school admission and language policies have received significant criticism.
In terms of language policy, the bill requires a school governing body to submit the language policy of a public school, as well as any amendments to it, to the head of department for approval.
The language policy must also include the language demands of the larger community. The measure also declares South African Sign Language to be an official language for the purposes of learning in public schools.
Despite the fact that the Portfolio Committee on Basic Education held extensive public hearings in all nine provinces, received written submissions, and held public hearings in Parliament for interested parties and organizations to make additional oral submissions, critics of the bill believe it is unconstitutional.
Opponents have also claimed that the government has ignored thousands of submissions critical of the new laws.
The primary arguments against giving the government final say on language and admittance rules are around transferring power from school governing bodies and communities to politicians to determine what is best for students.
If the measure is passed, the trade union Solidarity has already promised to sue the government, stating it is prepared to go all the way to the Constitutional Court. According to the organization, the legislation are an abuse of authority and a threat to Afrikaans and mother tongue education in the country.
The opposition DA has stated that it will likewise conduct a legal assessment of the law.
“While we support educational reform, we will not support a Bill that disempowers schools, parents, and communities and fails to address a single one of the systemic challenges that impede quality education, like overcrowding, poor literacy and numeracy, dropouts, terrible school infrastructure, poor quality teaching, and lack of resources,” the Department of Education said.
The ANC government, according to the party, has failed in education and indigenous language development, and is now looking to scapegoat the 5% of Afrikaans schools for its failure to provide quality education in all schools, regardless of a child’s geographical location, race, religion, or language.