This is what South Africans are saying about the Bela Bill

Minister of Basic Education Angie Motshekga welcomed the Bela Bill. Picture: Oupa Mokoena / Independent Newspapers

Minister of Basic Education Angie Motshekga welcomed the Bela Bill. Picture: Oupa Mokoena / Independent Newspapers

Published Feb 27, 2024


Members of the public, including parents and school governing bodies, have spoken out about the Basic Education Laws Amendment (Bela) Bill.

The bill seeks to amend key education laws in South Africa and has sparked controversy and drawn criticism from various quarters.

The changes include:

1. Making Grade R compulsory: Grade R will become the mandatory start of schooling, expanding to 7,888 schools.

2. Criminalising parental negligence: Parents failing to ensure their children attend school may face jail time. Disrupting school activities could lead to a maximum of 12 months in prison.

3. Regulation of home education: The bill allows for site visits before registering home education and gives the Minister of Basic Education authority to regulate home schooling.

4. Language policy: School governing bodies must submit language policies for approval, considering the linguistic needs of the community.

5. Religious accommodation: School codes of conduct must respect cultural and religious beliefs, with provisions for students to seek exemptions.

6. Ban on corporal punishment: The bill reaffirms the prohibition of corporal punishment in schools, with penalties for those who administer it.

In an ongoing survey, South Africans bemoaned the bill, criticising various amendments.

A number of people said making Grade R (children over four-years-old) compulsory is not a good idea.

“Some kids are not ready for Grade R. Especially if they are not emotionally ready for school at that age it will set them back at a later grade and cause mental issues of inadequacy,” said one participant on the platform.

A number of participants of the survey said these decisions should be left for the school governing bodies and not the Department of Education, saying there is a potential for politicisation. They also said the Bill takes away the parent’s power on what goes on in the classroom and that parents should be able to have a say on the matter.

The home schooling amendment was also a major concern for some.

“As for requiring registration for home schoolers, it will simply complicate matters. People choose home schooling for a myriad of reasons, and it should not be a complicated matter,” said a another participant.

In a statement released on Monday, Section27 has shared written submissions regarding the Bill with all nine provincial legislatures.

“Section27 has commented on the newest changes to the 2023 Bela Bill, and, in particular, welcomes the definition of corporal punishment now included therein, and the penalisation of those educators found guilty of committing this offence,” said Section27 in the statement.

It says it also welcomes the involvement of the Heads of the Departments (HoDs) of Education on the provincial level in reviewing school policies such as school admission policies, saying it will prevent school governing bodies from implementing “potentially discriminatory policies”.

Section27 welcomes the extension of compulsory schooling to Grade R, arguing that early introduction to education has numerous benefits for children.

However, they expressed concern that the 2023 Bela no longer has an explicit prohibition on alcohol on school grounds.