OPINION: Are you a home-schooling parent? These proposed policy changes impact you (and your pocket) directly
Drastic proposed legislative changes regarding home-schooling in South Africa has caused quite a stir. Parent24 asked the stakeholders for their opinion on what these changes could mean if passed.
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We're sure you've heard about the Department of Education's proposed amendments to the South African Schools Act 84 of 1996, and the Employment of Educators Act 76. 

The draft policy is called the Basic Education Laws Amendment Bill – aptly dubbed the "BELA Bill" – and proposes a few concerning changes to the way public schools are run and governed, which you can read all about here.

In this article, we'll be focusing on the draft amendments impacting home education, and how these changes will affect parents who home-school their kids beyond Grade 9.

We asked the Pestalozzi Trust – the legal experts on home-schooling in South Africa – to provide commentary and they referred us to their website which highlights their concerns.

Parent24 also spoke with the Cape Home Educators, a volunteer-run NPO supporting and advocating for home-schooling, regarding the proposed changes. 

The Department of Basic Education has also been asked to provide comment and we will post an update when we receive a response. 

If passed, here are the 4 main ways the BELA bill will impact home-schooling parents: 

1. At least the same standard as CAPS 

“51(2)(c) the proposed home education programme is suitable for the learner's age, grade level, ability and covers the acquisition of content and skills at least comparable to the relevant national curriculum determined by the Minister;” 

This may be worrying for some home-schooling parents because the reason many choose this form of education is that their children don't do well with the Curriculum and Assessment Policy Statements (CAPS), and have purposefully chosen a curriculum in which their child thrives. 

There are a range of internationally accredited alternatives – such as the Cambridge Assessment International Education programme, and the General Education Diploma (GED)/Suite of Assessments (SATs), widely followed in the US – currently utilised by home educators, and up to the drafting of the proposed amendments, parents were free to choose the curriculum they felt was most suitable.

Victor Sabbe, Cape Home Educators Chairman, says the vague wording here does not inspire confidence, and that not only does it lend itself to interpretation by Department officials, but there is already a huge disconnect between current policy and its practical application.

"There was a big disconnect between the previous (current) policy and the way it was practically applied by Department officials. That's why 95% of homeschooling parents are not registered with the Department of Basic Education. We are regularly contacted by parents who registered with the Department and are frustrated by the lack of help and all these unnecessary ... 'regulations' they need to navigate.

"... Due to the vague wording in the BELA Bill, home-schooling parents are once again concerned that Department officials will interpret the bill incorrectly and overstep their authority as has been historically proven to be the case," he told Parent24. 

Also see: Homeschooling information and curricula  

2. A “competent assessor” must assess your child every year at your cost

“51(2)(d)(iii) arrange for the learner's educational attainment to be assessed annually by a competent assessor, approved by the Head of Department, at the parent 's own expense who will apply a standard that is not inferior to the standard expected in a public school according to the learner's age, grade level and ability;”

According to Pestalozzi Trust, the competent assessor will most likely be a teacher who will be evaluating your child’s progress as per the CAPS curriculum, and that for “… higher grades it is likely that you will have to pay for multiple assessors as a single assessor will not be competent to assess a subject they do not teach. This will apply up to and including grade 9.” 

If you have more than one child this could potentially get expensive fast. After doing a preliminary costing, the Cape Home Educators say home-schooling expenses “… will be somewhere between government schooling fees and private schooling fees depending on what curriculum provider they use.” 

And in addition to home-schoolers, the tax payer will also be impacted. 

“The cost to the state (taxpayers) will run into the millions as more officials need to be appointed to administratively handle the nearly 100 000 children currently being home-schooled,” explains Sabbe. "As you can see homeschooling will only be available to the wealthy. Currently homeschooling is a very affordable option depending on what route the parent decides to take for their children. Ultimately parents will foot the bill for government's uninformed decisions."

3. Only the NSC Matric  

“51(6) A parent of a learner who wishes to continue with home education after the learner has completed grade 9, must make use of the services of a private or independent service provider accredited by Umalusi, established in terms of section 4 of the General and Further Education and Training Quality Assurance Act. 2001 (Act No. 58 of 2001), to register for the Senior Certificate Examination through an independent or private assessment body.” 

This is a disappointing change for Sabbe. "Homeshooling learners are only required to register with the Department up to the age of 15, which is the required school attendance age. So from 15 parents will be able to choose another matric option for their children.

“The South African matric is not up to international standards and therefore many parents are opting to do another type of matric like Cambridge or SAT. These are internationally recognised qualifications that are accepted by both local and international universities." 

This change is practically forcing home-schooled students to get a South African matric. For the Pestalozzi Trust, the proposed policy is clear-cut: “If you want to write a ‘matriculation exam’ you must write the National Senior Certificate Exam i.e. the South African matric.” 

“You may not write the GED, Cambridge or any other international ‘matric’ unless you enrol in a school to do that.” 

4. Prosecution   

“3(6)(a) any parent who without just cause and after a written notice from the Head of Department, fails to comply with subsection (1), is guilty of an offence and liable on conviction to a fine or to imprisonment for a period not exceeding six [months] years, or to both such fine and such imprisonment; or”

It seems somewhat drastic but the BELA bill is proposing a 6-year sentence to parents who do not follow policy, harking back to the oppresive Apartheid government under which home-schooling was outlawed. 

“This is extremely counterproductive to the point of madness,” asserts Sabbe, who continues, "Fortunately the bill has not been passed and we are hoping that goverment would see the light on this one."

“The process is quite long… it could take another year depending on how much resistance government gets.” 

Yet despite these sweeping changes Sabbe says it should be viewed in a positive light: “The one thing the BELA bill shows us is that government realises that there is a crisis in our education system and through the bill they are trying to address the various complex issues.

"As a homeschooling community we have always been willing and available to work with goverment to make education great in South Africa," he concludes. 

Disclaimer: The views of columnists published on Parent24 are their own and therefore do not necessarily represent the views of Parent24.

Are you a home-schooling parent? How do you feel about the proposed amendments and will you continue to home-school if the bill is passed? We welcome all stakeholders – whether individuals or groups – to send their comments to chatback@parent24.com and we could publish your letter. Do let us know if you'd like to stay anonymous. 

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