The residents of the Cape Winelands District Municipality have called for the Basic Education Laws Amendment Bill (Bella Bill) to include a clear clause that will ensure freedom of curriculum and approach to protect the environment against what they describe as draconian regulations proposed by the Bill. Furthermore, they argued that an unambiguous clause will assure them that they would not be compelled to use public school’s Curriculum and Assessment Policy Statement.

These views were shared by the residents who included parents of learners and community baed organisations with the Portfolio Committee on Basic Education when it conducted public hearings on the Bill yesterday at Montana Community Hall in Wolsely.

With a majority rejecting the Bill especially clause 37, there was a strong emphasis made that children are the responsibility of the parents and not the state. They further argued that the Bill currently seeks to usurp this responsibility thereby interfering on parents and children’s rights that are enshrined in the Constitution. Participants argued that the drafters of the Bill did not do enough research nor a socio-economic impact assessment on the impact of the Bill on the education system. They told the department to go back to the drawing board, engage parents and learners within the environment and draft a correct clause for the sector.

Meanwhile, a view was expressed that parents should be trusted to act in the best interest of their children something which, arccording to some participants, is lacking in the Bella Bill currently. Furthermore, they asserted that the Children’s Act has adequate measures to protect a child in a case of neglect. In addition, there was a view that bringing in an independent assessor to evaluate progress of home schooled children was a waste of time and financial resources making it inaccessible to low income families.

Clause 16 which stating the central procurement of identified learning and teaching material for public schools was identified by participants as a risk factor in the implementation of the Bill primarily because of the current irregularities in the procurement policies within government departments and state owned entities. Also, some raised the lack of capacity within many provincial education departments to deliver the required material on time.

There were some who supported certain aspects of the Bill, primarily the uniform and national measurement governing the elections of the School Governing Bodies (SGBs) as it will ensure uniformity and ensure fairness in processes. Meanwhile, there were divergent views on why some participants supported the clause on compulsory schooling from Grade R. Some suggested that the inclusion is a necessary step for Early Childhood Development while others argued that Grade R teachers will benefit directly as they will receive benefits of mainstream teachers which will improve their quality of life.

Those who supported the Bill argued that its intention is transformative in nature especially the clause on language and admission policies. They argued that children coming from the historically disadvantaged backgrounds were denied access to schools that are popularly referred to as “Model C” schools by language and admission policies. They said that the office of the HOD together with the SGB must determine a school’s language and admission policy. Some also argued for a clause to be inserted in the Bill that will prevent contradictions between the HOD and SGB on language and admission policies.

The committee will today at noon conclude the Western Cape leg of public consultations on the BELA Bill at the Gugulethu Indoor Sports Complex in the City of Cape Town Metro. The committee invites all interested individuals and organisations to come and make inputs.

Source: Parliament of South Africa