New School Rules for South Africa Heading to Ramaphosa for Approval

New School Rules For South Africa Heading To Ramaphosa For Approval
  1. New Compulsory School-Starting Age: The amended Basic Education Laws Amendment Bill makes Grade R the new mandatory starting age for school, ensuring that children begin formal education earlier.
  2. Departmental Control Over Policies: Schools can create their own language and admission policies, but these must be approved by the Department of Basic Education, which has the final authority, sparking concerns over centralized control.
  3. Potential Legal Challenges: Opponents like Union Solidarity have indicated possible legal action against the bill, arguing it centralizes power and undermines local control over educational policies.

New school rules in South Africa are set to become law as the amended Basic Education Laws Amendment Bill has been passed by the National Assembly and is now awaiting President Cyril Ramaphosa’s signature.

After the Portfolio Committee on Basic Education adopted the amendments on 15 May, the National Assembly passed the bill, following its acceptance by the National Council of Provinces on 14 May. Previously, the bill had been deferred by the NCOP on a technicality.

The amended bill, referred to as the D-bill, was approved by all provinces except the Western Cape. During the bill’s processing, several provinces raised key issues, particularly concerning language and admission policies, prompting further amendments by the Select Committee on Education and Technology, Sport, Arts, and Culture. Consequently, the revised D-bill was passed by the National Assembly and sent to the President for assent.

Significant changes introduced in the D-bill include:

  • Allowing schools to create their own language and admission policies while granting the Department of Basic Education the final authority.
  • Regulating various aspects of school governing bodies.
  • Making Grade R the new mandatory starting age for school.
  • Criminalizing parents who fail to ensure their children attend school.
  • Regulating home education.
  • Reinforcing the ban on corporal punishment.

The most contentious aspects of the bill involve language and admission policies, which faced substantial opposition from school groups and opposition parties. The Democratic Alliance (DA) opposed the bill throughout the committee meetings and in the National Assembly. In response to the opposition, minor amendments were made, allowing schools and governing bodies to set their admission and language policies, but these must be approved by provincial heads of department (HODs). The bill requires HODs to consult with affected schools and communities before making any changes, though they retain the ultimate authority to disapprove and alter these policies.

Critics argue that the bill centralizes power within the Department of Basic Education, diminishing the role of parents, educators, and local governing bodies in shaping the educational landscape of their communities. Union Solidarity, another opponent, has signaled potential legal action if the bill becomes law, describing the adoption by the National Assembly as the beginning of a legal battle and expressing concern over the centralization of authority over language and admission policies.

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