The latest proposed school regulations raised ongoing issues; school suspension, compulsory attendance, expulsion and language of instruction policies. Concerned groups have called for more clarity regarding some government plans’ clauses.
The Basic Education Laws Amendment (BELA) Bill was introduced to parliament and proposes to amend the South African Schools Act and the Employment of Educators Act. The Equal Education Law Centre addressed the problematic issues around compulsory attendance, serious misconduct and corporal punishment in a forum around the implications of the BELA Bill.
Candidate Attorney from Equal Education Law Centre Ebrahiem Daniels stated that the bill could result in parents being imprisoned for up to 12 months or paying fines if they prevent their children from attending school.
The Equal Education Law Centre opposes these consequences for preventing their children from attending school, as socio-economic factors often influence whether a child attends school.
Some children are not able to attend school due to safety issues in their communities such as gang violence or protests. Their school infrastructure may also not be conducive to learning or their parents may not have the means to allow them to travel to school.
The law centre requests for the removal of the criminalisation of parents and the provision of less punitive consequences for not sending their children to school. Daniels stated that parents should be consulted as to the reasons why they did not send their children to school.
Questioning the parents may help authorities gain more understanding of the issues preventing children from going to school.
The Bill defines serious misconduct of learners as repeated bullying, possession of drugs, alcohol, or a weapon, fraud, and sexual activity. Learners found guilty of misconduct may experience suspension or expulsion.
Daniels believes that the definition of serious misconduct is too broad and could cause learners to be suspended for actions that do not warrant the punishment.
A section on language policies is included in the bill. Daniels explained that the Head of Departments can direct schools to adopt more than one language of instruction.
This section is supported by the Equal Education Law Centre as they believe that with more languages of instruction schools can be more inclusive. However, many steps need to be followed to adjust school language policies.
All stakeholders will need to make a representation of the Head of Department’s intention to increase the number of languages of instruction provided. Parents and the community also need to be notified and consulted concerning a change in the language policy of a school and notices of a change in the language policy need to be circulated in the community where the school is situated.