A letter from Michael Howard, a Christian youth leader in Cape Town
The South African government is moving ahead with new school rules for the country.
After reading through the government gazette in question, I can appreciate many of the provisions made therein. I can see how a deeper synergy between the department head and school governing bodies can prove helpful, as well as how a more progressive language policy system can lead to better quality education for students.
However, I take issue with an underlying assumption that is best revealed in the words of the Minister of Basic Education, Angie Motshekga: “The state has overall responsibility over children.”
The idea that it is the state that provides primary oversight of the children of this country is fundamentally flawed. Yes, the state plays a role in providing for the protection of our children, but they are by no means the party that possesses overall responsibility over them.
It is the family unit that plays the greatest role in the lives of children – particularly the father and mother. In a healthy situation, it is the parents who know what is best for their children; the government cannot see the specificity of the needs that are particular to each child, even when those needs pertain to education.
To wave the proverbial government gun at parents – forcing them to send their children to ECD centers and disallowing them from keeping their children home – is to undermine the very notion of the autonomy of the family unit. The family unit is the foundation upon which society is constructed, and it is not the government’s prerogative to make sweeping rulings that affect the entire nation in a way that positions itself as primary caregiver to a child.
Admittedly, exceptional cases do exist where government intervention may be considered a viable alternative. However, in my humble opinion, it is not healthy to make this the norm for every child in the country. The government could never hope to understand the unique needs of every child in the country and, thus, cannot profess to possess overall responsibility over them either.