In October 2012, in answer to a parliamentary question by ACDP MP Cherylynn Dudley, Education Minister Angie Motshekga said the purpose of planned changes to the law was to provide for home education as part of the formal schooling system. While that may have sounded reasonable, in fact the changes that are now set to be introduced have the potential to outlaw home education in its current form.
Home education became legal in 1996 (after the apartheid government had prohibited it) and it is estimated that at that time 50 families followed this alternative approach to education. The national census of 2011 indicated that about 57,000 pupils were home educated. The current number of home-educated pupils is estimated to be more than 120,000.
Home education is not school or institutional education. It is an education approach that is child-paced with no strict adherence to grades. The child progresses through levels once the current level is mastered or completed. Home education is an interest-led approach to education. The child has control of his education as his learning is based on his interests, ability, stage of development, and a desire for in-depth study (think of that child who is absolutely fixated on dinosaurs and knows them by their scientific names). While this is a broad description of the practice, home schooling follows a number of different approaches, such as the Classical approach, Natural Learning, Charlotte Maison, Montessori, and Eclectic (a mix of different approaches and materials). Over the past 25 years it has proven to be a successful modality with increasing popularity.
Parents choose home education for a number of reasons, topmost of which is the desire to give their children a quality, individualised education that will equip them for their adult life in an ever-faster-changing world. We want to equip our children with the skills for continued learning, to nurture their curiosity, to teach them problem-solving skills and cultivate grit. We want them to be critical thinkers and have good communication skills.
Some parents had the foresight to realise that a school education will not be in the best interest of their children and never enrolled them at an education institution. Others became disillusioned with school when their children’s educational and emotional needs were not met.
Distance learning (also known as online schooling and sometimes called home schooling) is lumped together with home education purely because the place where the child receives their education is primarily the home (and current legislation does not make provision for institutionalised education away from the institution). The Covid-19 pandemic and subsequent lockdown were key drivers in the growth of distance learning and CAPS-aligned service providers and online schools have become household names.
Home educators have raised significant concerns about Section 51 of the Basic Education Law Amendments (BELA) Bill which is more in accordance with distance learning than it is with home education. Parents who choose distance learning will have fewer concerns about the provisions of the section. However, a point of shared contention is the requirement that parents must ask for permission to educate their children from home and that they must convince the head of the provincial education department that they are acting in the best interest of their children. Only once the head of department is satisfied will a child be registered for home education.
Why should a caring, competent parent whose child is not a ward of the state, or an active case of a social worker, have to ask permission to perform their parental duty? This is especially pertinent when one considers the incidence of physical and emotional violence at schools (noted by Gauteng education spokesperson Ofentse Morwane and reflected in research conducted by educationist Dr Shuti Steph Khumalo in 2019), the national shortage of schools and teachers (on 30 November 2021 Gauteng still had more than 276,000 unplaced pupils, KwaZulu-Natal 226,142 and the Western Cape 29,550), the lack of proper sanitation and water in many schools (according to Equal Education, 1,243 Eastern Cape schools still have plain pit latrines), and the high cost of attending schools that perform academically well.
Another serious point of concern is Section 51 (16), which states: “The Minister may make regulations relating to registration for, and the administration of, home education.” This gives the minister unlimited powers to regulate home education.
On 15 December 2021, the BELA Bill was referred to the Portfolio Committee on Basic Education and the Select Committee on Education and Technology, Sport, Arts and Culture, for their information. This means that it is one step closer on a long journey to being signed into law.
From the latest draft, it is clear that six years’ worth of consultations (2014 to 2021) have not altered minister Motshekga’s views and she and her department have ignored all comments and proposals from the home education community – those most affected by the proposed law.
The minister’s intent is clear, but the motivation behind it is less so. What happened in the 16 years following 1996 that caused Motshekga and her department to want to bring home education under the ambit of the formal schooling system? Was there a marked increase in the number of child abuse and educational neglect cases of home-educated children? Did the home become an unsafe environment in which to educate a child? Was there an increase in the number of unemployed home-educated pupils? Was there any research conducted that indicated that home education denies a child their right to a basic education?
Cape Home Educators has made numerous requests to the Western Cape education department for the reasons behind the decision to confine home education to school education, but has been met with silence.
When we asked them why an emphasis is placed on CAPS-aligned assessment, we were told that the government must ensure that every child receives a basic education. This seems a fair comment, but it raises the question: Is the national curriculum and assessments the only means to determine whether a child is being educated? Absolutely not. In a survey conducted by Cape Home Educators in 2021, 85% of the respondents indicated that they keep some kind of proof of learning. This can be submitted upon request. International benchmark tests for literacy and numeracy can be used as a means to satisfy government’s requirement as this is not curriculum or content related but they rather focus on skills attained.
The home education community has used all the available channels to petition the Department of Basic Education to change course and draft legislation that is in line with the practice and reality of home education.
In 2014/15, representatives from Cape Home Educators who attended a round-table discussion on the government’s Policy on Home Education (which supports the legislative changes), shared international research confirming the validity and success of home education as an educational modality. Other stakeholders made presentations on the character of and various approaches to home education. In 2017, home education associations, parents, children and other stakeholders submitted comments on the BELA Bill. Of the approximately 5,000 comments received, 1,000 (20%) were from the home education community. This is remarkable if one considers that home-educated children form about 1% of the total school-aged population. Home educators submitted very detailed comments expressing their discontent with the draconian laws proposed in Section 51.
At a round-table discussion in February 2020, home education representatives pointed out the flaws and unworkability of the policy on home education. In 2021, Cape Home Educators met representatives of the Western Cape education department (one of whom served on the BELA Bill task team) in a series of meetings to discuss concerns regarding Section 51.
Despite numerous attempts by home education associations and activists and the Pestalozzi Trust to inform the government of the flaws in the proposed regulations, and despite us offering practical, implementable alternatives that will provide certainty that home-educated children are receiving quality basic education, our voice was ignored. No substantive improvements to the draft bill were made. Rather, compared with the 2017 version, the current draft is even more restrictive and will cause more friction between home educators and the national and provincial education departments, and will increase the administrative and financial burden on families and education departments alike. DM