Home South African Minister Motshekga defends controversial Bela Bill

Minister Motshekga defends controversial Bela Bill

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Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga has defended the controversial Basic Education Laws Amendment (Bela) Bill, saying it “promises to usher in a new era of educational reform and excellence”.

Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga. Picture: Jacques Naude, Independent Newspapers

BASIC Education Minister Angie Motshekga has defended the controversial Basic Education Laws Amendment (Bela) Bill, saying it “promises to usher in a new era of educational reform and excellence”.

Critics of the bill say that it will remove all school governing body (SGB) powers and place the powers to govern in the hands of department heads.

The bill proposes significant amendments to the South African Schools Act (Sasa) of 1996 and the Educators Employment Act of 1998. Among others, making Grade R the new compulsory school starting grade instead of Grade 1. It also seeks to criminalise parents who fail to ensure their children attend school as well as regulating home education.

Last week, the education portfolio committee met to consider the amendments and adopt a report for submission for the passing of the bill in the National Assembly.

Motshekga said in the past 30 years, the nation had made tremendous strides in ensuring access to quality basic education for all and this progress is highlighted in the recent passing of the Bela Bill.

“The years leading up to this democratic breakthrough were characterised by an under-resourced and racially-segregated education system.

“The post-apartheid era necessitated a complete overhaul of this system, driven by a vision of equitable access and quality education for all children,” Motshekga said.

Motshekga said the bill “aptly termed Basic Education 2.0”, addresses critical challenges that have hindered the progress of the country’s education ecosystem for years.

“One of the primary issues the Bela Bill tackles is the determination of a school’s language policy.

“Contrary to the misconception that the bill aims to erode the autonomy of SGBs, it seeks to harmonise the powers of the SGB with the directives of the relevant provincial head of department.

“While the SGB is initially tasked with setting a school’s language policy, the bill emphasises that this authority is not unequivocal, ensuring that policies are adaptable, inclusive, and congruent with the constitutional right to basic education.”

She said that the bill also addresses the crucial issue of managing pregnancy among pupils.

Pregnant pupils often face ostracism and educational hindrances, and the bill aims to guarantee that their constitutional right to education remains intact.

“The minister’s regulatory power is centred on ensuring schools adopt a compassionate and pragmatic stance towards supporting pregnant pupils, rather than dictating personal decisions or delving into health matters such as abortion,” Motshekga said.

She said that the bill places the responsibility of determining the admission policy firmly in the hands of the SGB, stating that: “The admission policy of a public school is determined by the governing body of such school.”

“The head of department will only intervene where an admission policy discriminates against a pupil, in line with constitutional provisions.

“The Bela Bill also clearly states that it neither allows nor encourages the use, transportation, or consumption of alcohol in schools.”

Motshekga, speaking at the provincial district awards ceremony at Durban’s ICC on Monday, said the bill is about administration and management.

“There is nothing about teenage pregnancy. You hear people saying, ‘Bela Bill is an abortion bill’. There is no such thing! How can I do such an evil thing, in my old age, and discuss such things with children,” Motshekga said.

She said the bill talks about what age a child should start at school and which language a child should use at school.

The Department of Basic Education earlier estimated that implementing this provision would require a staggering R16 billion, while another R12bn would be needed for infrastructure, with R4bn budgeted for staffing.

Organisation Section27, which has made submissions on the bill, states that according to Section 61 of the South African Schools Act, the Bela Bill does not empower teachers or school officials to participate in a learner’s decision regarding abortion. It says the reference to “learner pregnancy” in the bill is unrelated to abortion.

In what is referred to as “home education”, the bill states that if the parent of a pupil who chooses to educate the pupil at home, such a parent must apply to the head of department for the child’s registration to receive home schooling.

The bill further states that the head of department must approve the pupil’s application and register the pupil. Parents who choose to home school their children will still have the right to determine what to teach them as long as it’s considered acceptable.

The non-profit organisations Equal Education and the Equal Education Law Centre have slammed proposals in the bill to prosecute parents who fail to ensure their children attend school.

The two organisations have, however, welcomed the introduction of compulsory education for Grade R, but said this must be done in a phased manner because many schools were overcrowded.

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