Home-schoolers accuse government of steam-rolling new policy on home education

PHOTO: Oupa Nkosi, M&G

South African Homeschooling organisations have accused the government of steam-rolling through a new policy on home education and a home schooling advocate foresees significant legal battles ahead over alleged serious legal shortcomings associated with the policy, says the Pestalozzi Trust (PT) in a press release.

Despite a last-minute outcry by as many as 1 000 home-schooling parents last week, who the PT says wrote to the Department of Basic Education (DBE) asking for the new home education policy to be released to the public for study, the Council of Education Ministers (CEM) has approved the policy for promulgation by DBE Minister Angie Motshekga.

Parents requests called ‘spamming’
In a statement released on Monday the DBE says the DBE approval of the policy follows an “extensive and all-encompassing” consultation process that spanned four years. It adds that it “is aware that a small grouping is opposed to the policy and has been spamming departmental officials requesting that the policy not be promulgated”, and it is confident the policy ensures that every child has the right to basic education as enshrined in the constitution.

The DBE also says in its statement that it received a total of 740 submission in the consultation process and reviewed the home education policy after having considered “progressive inputs”.

The ACDP shares many of the concerns of the home education community, including that home education under the current act is treated as a form of independent education and that aspects of the draft policy are measures appropriate to public education, says the party in a press statement released yesterday.

ACDP Member of Parliament Cheryllyn Dudley said that “the ACDP is of the opinion that the policy is unworkable in practice. Under-resourced provincial education departments will not be able to cope with the administrative burden of the policy, and significant additional costs will be placed on home educating families”.

She also said the DBE’s statement about having considered “progressive inputs” implies that any submission they decided was not “progressive” was not considered as part of the policy review.

Input disregarded
“This is exactly what the community most affected by this policy are saying — their input has been disregarded.” Dudley said.

The PT press statement reports that Bouwe van der Eems, chairperson of the trust, which is a legal defence fund for home and community education, says: “The Pestalozzi Trust
requested a copy of the final version of the policy in order to confirm that the DBE listened to the comments of the nearly 700 homeschooling families who had made submissions on the draft Policy.

“After multiple attempts over more than the last six months to engage with the DBE, the Trust was merely informed that all comments were analysed ‘in a fair, just and a
credible manner’ and will be submitted to Council for Education Ministers for approval. Members of the home education movement wanted to verify if their fundamental concerns were addressed”.

He also stressed that home-schoolers wanted to be aware of the contents of the policy to allow them an opportunity to engage with their elected representatives before the policy was finalised, says PT in its press release.

Not only was the DBE unwilling to release the final version of the policy to the public, it was not even willing to divulge to those parents who called in whether a CEM meeting would take place, or whether home education was on the agenda. Other parents struggled to get hold of officials, says the PT.

Emails deleted
A home educator, Mrs Anelle Burger, says: “I sent an email and tried to follow up with phone calls. Despite numerous tries my calls were never answered. Many fellow home educators reported that they received notification that their emails were deleted without having been read. I wonder if the same happened to my emails?”

This is not the first time that home educators have inundated the DBE with requests to be involved in the regulatory and legislative process. Despite learners engaged in home-based education being approximately 1% of the total number of learners in South Africa, submissions by home educators accounted for a significant portion of the comments received on the controversial Basic Education Law Amendments (BELA) Bill when the DBE called for public comment late last year.

Chairperson of the Association for Homeschooling, Shaun Green, says: “Throughout the flawed consultation process there has been an unprecedented response from the homeschooling community to both the policy and proposed amendments to the Act. Input from the people this affects most has been substantially ignored. It is amazing to witness policy-makers ignoring what the DBE Director General Mathanzima Mweli in November 2017 said ‘the word avalanche would not describe’. One can only assume that the DBE believes that their steamroller is bigger than an ‘indescribable avalanche’.”

Legal battles forseen
Advocate Megan Puchert of the Eastern Cape Home School Association sees significant legal battles ahead: “I place the legal validity of the Policy in question, as there are problems with the empowering provisions. This is very serious. It also seems as though the findings of the 2001 Constitutional Court case, Minister of Education v Harris, were never considered when this policy was drafted and approved. I foresee that the Minister of Education will now have to deal with these issues through very expensive, and unnecessary, litigation.”

She says: “It seems as though the cart was placed before the horse. Changes to the SA Schools Act are still being debated and discussed, whereas several of these
proposed changes have been incorporated into the policy through a back door.”

PT’s Van der Eems says: “A policy based on a flawed public participation process will merely increase conflict. A policy based on a law that does not yet exist will cause chaos. The correct way forward is that the drafting of the policy is postponed until the BELA Bill passes through parliament and an amended Schools Act is promulgated. Only the minister can stop the promulgation of a policy that will merely promote conflict and chaos and instead initiate a drafting process based on the rule of law and meaningful public participation.”

In its Monday statement in which it dismisses parents’ emails as spam, the DBE says it held its first consultation meeting with the home education community and other stakeholders in October 2014.

Consultation process
The DBE statement says: “The meeting was attended by representatives from home education associations, Pestalozzi Trust, independent curriculum providers,ISASA, Umalusi, South African Comprehensive Assessment Institute, South African Institute for Distance Education, Department of Higher Education and Training, and the Department of Basic Education (DBE). In this meeting home education stakeholders presented national and international research to the DBE. The home education community expressed appreciation for the opportunity as it was the first time ever that the state engaged them on the practice, whether pre- and/or post 1994.

“A second consultation meeting with stakeholders was held in July of the following year where a discussion document was presented and a working group was set up involving all stakeholders. Unfortunately some of the stakeholders resigned from this process citing disagreements with the document, and that they would not be seen as part of the DBE team to review the 1999 policy.

“The working Group however was able to continue with its work until the draft policy was gazetted in November 2017 for the public to make submissions within 21 days. The Department received numerous requests from the public to extend the submission date to which it obliged and the new closing date for submissions, 31 January 2018, was communicated to the public.

“A total of 740 submissions were received and DBE acknowledged receipt to all who submitted. Between February and July 2018, the working group captured submissions received, analysed them and reviewed the policy after having considered progressive inputs.

“The policy was presented to DBE management structures, and approved by Heads of Education Department Committee (HEDCOM) to be tabled at a CEM meeting for promulgation. The CEM of 19 July 2018 approved the policy. The Department is currently preparing a gazette for promulgation.”

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