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The Portfolio Committee on Basic Education will this weekend host public hearings on the Basic Education Laws Amendment Bill in the Western Cape. Public participation remains a foundation of South Africa’s participatory democracy and this process allows individuals and organisations to shape the laws that govern all aspects of our lives, hence the call for residents and organisations in the Western Cape to contribute to this process.

This public participation process is in line with Chapter 59 (1) of South Africa’s Constitution, which compels the National Assembly to facilitate public involvement in the legislative process. In addition, the legislative sector adopted a public participation model that places public consultation at the centre of how it does its business. The committee reiterates that all public hearings are open to everyone and all contributions, whether oral or written, will be considered when the committee deliberates on the Bill.

The Basic Education Laws Amendment Bill proposes to amend the South African Schools Act of 1996 and the Employment of Educators Act of 1998, so as to align them with developments in the education landscape and to ensure that systems of learning are put in place in a manner that gives effect to the right to basic education enshrined in section 29(1) of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, 1996. This is done through the amendment of certain definitions, clarifying certain provisions and inserts new provisions that are absent in the existing legislation.

Some of the key amendments the bill aims to make include:

• Making grade R the new compulsory school starting age, as opposed to grade 1, as is currently the case.

• Compelling the registration of home-schooled learners.

• Criminalising parents who do not ensure their children are in school, with fines or jail time up to 12 months.

• Holding school governing bodies more accountable for the disclosure of financial interests, including those related to their spouses and family members.

• Prohibiting educators from conducting business with the state or being a director of public or private companies conducting business with the state.

• Abolishing corporal punishment and initiation/hazing practices.

• Allowing schools to sell alcohol outside of school hours.

• Giving government department heads power over language policies and the curriculums a school must adopt.

The committee has up to now held successful public hearings in Limpopo, Free State, North West, Mpumalanga, Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal and has heard various views on the bill. Those that supported it welcomed its intention to curtail the exclusion of children from certain schools on the basis of language and admission policies. They also consider the bill necessary forstrengthening governance in schools through the proposal for school governing bodies (SGBs) to declare their financial interests.

Those opposed to the bill, however, highlighted that centralisingfunctions in the office of heads of department will create a cumbersome administrative process that will delay decision-making. In addition, concerns were raised that the bill intends to take away the power of SGBs to determine language and admission policies as SGBs are closer to schools and understand the unique dynamics within their community and the school. There is majority consensus rejecting the sale of alcohol on school premises.

“The people of the Western Cape have an opportunity to determine the trajectory our education system must take at this crucial point. We hope to have as successful hearings as we did in other provinces and the participation of residents will be highly appreciated,” said Ms Bongiwe Mbinqo-Gigaba, the Chairperson of the committee.

The committee will conduct public hearings during the weekand on weekends to afford stakeholders, organisations and individuals enough opportunity to participate. The committee invites all interested individuals and organisations to come and make inputs.

Source: Parliament of South Africa