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Cosatu welcomes Bela Bill, but rejects criminalising school disruptions and allowing alcohol sales

Cosatu welcomes Bela Bill, but rejects criminalising school disruptions and allowing alcohol sales
Students protest outside Job Rathebe Junior Secondary on 19 July 2022 in Soweto, South Africa. (Photo: Gallo Images / Papi Morake)

The federation rejects the provision in the bill criminalising any disruptions of schools. This definition is too broad, unconstitutional and will in effect criminalise teachers and education workers for exercising their constitutional and legal rights to picket, protest and strike.

The Basic Education Laws Amendment (Bela) Bill contains several progressive and some long overdue provisions which Cosatu and its affiliate, the South African Democratic Teachers’ Union support. We have presented our submission to Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Basic Education, and outlined our position on the bill.

These include:

Establishing Grade R as a required part of schooling for all learners

This will help lay a stronger foundation for learners entering Grade 1 and for their long-term academic success in school. Experience has shown that those learners who attended Grade R were better placed to do well in their school career. It will necessitate government to put in place the necessary resources to ensure schools are able to offer Grade R, e.g. classrooms, teachers and other resources.

Strengthening provisions requiring learners to attend school and holding parents accountable for their children’s attendance

It is critical that all children be in school at all times. Parents need to play their part in ensuring their children are in school and learning. Children need to be at school if they are to gain an education.

Clear guidelines as well as checks and balances for school language, admissions, uniform and diversity inclusivity policies to ensure that learners’ needs and diversity are accommodated as well as to prevent unfair discrimination and exclusion of learners

South African remains scarred by the legacies of apartheid and colonialism. The continued occurrences of learners being denied admission to schools because of the language of instruction or being sent home from school because they wore extensions in their hair, are evidence for the need for school language, admissions, dress code and related policies to be guided by principles set by the department and to be held accountable for this.

Recognition of South African Sign Language as a language of instruction and learning

Learners with hearing disabilities struggle to access education with few schools available providing learning through sign language. Mainstreaming access to education for learners with hearing impairments as well as other learners with disabilities is critical if we are to build a truly inclusive society where all learners are able to access education, find employment and provide for their families.

It is equally important to offer the opportunity to learn Sign Language to all learners if we are to overcome the segregation persons with hearing impairments face.

Strengthening rules prohibiting drugs, alcohol and weapons from schools and empowering schools to search for and confiscate such items as needed

Our schools reflect the violent society we have become. Schools have a responsibility to parents to ensure that their children are safe. Schools need to be empowered to ensure schools are places of learning and not violence.

Banning corporal punishment and initiation practices from schools

Learners are children and their rights to be protected from abuse must be enforced. We should not still be witnessing children being beaten or bullied at schools.

Centralised procurement of key materials

This will help save costs, reduce corruption and support local procurement and avoid a repeat of what happened not so long ago in Limpopo and other provinces where learners had to wait months for their textbooks.

Making it easier for single parents to register their children at school when their ex-partners are absent

Many children grow up in single-parent households where the other parent has often abandoned their child and cannot be found. Neither the child nor the parent should be made to suffer or be denied access to education in such situations.

Measures to ensure financial accountability and prohibit officials from doing business with schools

The past decade has shown how deeply entrenched and debilitating corruption and State Capture has become in South Africa. While schools may not have large amounts of funds under their control, it is critical that all public institutions are well governed and protected from corruption if we are to rebuild South Africa and ensure that public funds are properly allocated.

Problematic provisions in the bill that need to be removed and amended

The Federation rejects the provision in the bill criminalising any disruptions of schools. This definition of school disruptions is too broad, unconstitutional and will effectively criminalise teachers and education workers for exercising their constitutional and legal rights to picket, protest and strike. Such a ban won’t pass constitutional muster and will be challenged in the Constitutional Court if not removed by Parliament from the bill.

Alcohol sales

Cosatu is deeply opposed to the bill’s proposals to allow alcohol to be sold on school premises as part of their fundraising purposes. While there is a place for the responsible consumption of liquor in society, school is not that place. South Africa has a serious problem with the over-consumption and abuse of alcohol. The high rates of road accidents and fatalities, domestic and gender-based violence, and foetal alcohol syndrome are evidence of society’s dangerously unhealthy relationship with alcohol.

Young people are particularly susceptible to alcohol and binge drinking. If we are serious about tackling alcohol abuse, then Parliament must remove the provisions allowing alcohol sales at schools.

Cosatu is deeply worried about the Department of Basic Education’s over-reliance on learner numbers as the criteria for closing or merging schools. This places learners in farming and remote rural areas far from schools at a serious disadvantage.

Additional criteria need to be included, in particular, the distance learners must travel to school and the availability of learner transport.

Parliament needs to be bold and extend the compulsory school years from Grade 9 to 12. An unaffordably high number of learners exit schools at age 15 or Grade 9 as currently allowed. This is sending an army of youth into the economy without the necessary education, skills and qualifications needed to find work and to take care of the families.

Learners should be required to remain in school until completing Grade 12 or in a TVET or vocational college.

If we are to ensure young people can find work, grow the economy and create jobs, then we need to increase, not decrease the number of learners in schools and colleges. DM

Matthew Parks is Cosatu’s Parliamentary Coordinator.


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