matric exam rewrite

Big changes might be on the cards for South African schools. Image: Unsplash

Govt pushes alcohol sales, less independence in new school rules

If the BELA Bill is passed, major changes will include allowing schools to sell alcohol and government dictating language policies.

matric exam rewrite

Big changes might be on the cards for South African schools. Image: Unsplash

The controversial Basic Education Laws Amendment (BELA) Bill spearheaded by the Portfolio Committee on Basic Education aims to rewrite the rule book for schools. The provincial public consultation process is set to start this week. The radical overhaul the bill proposes for South African schools, include giving the government the final say over language policies, as well as allowing schools to sell alcohol.

At the end of 2022, the proposed laws were strongly opposed during consultations with stakeholders when various organisations, unions, political parties and industry groups made their presentations to the portfolio committee, according to BusinessTech.

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BELA Bill: Alcohol sales, language policies to corporal punishment

Some of the key amendments that the bill aims to implement, include:

  • Making Grade R the new compulsory school starting age, as opposed to Grade 1, as is currently the case.
  • Forcing homeschooled learners to be registered for this type of schooling.
  • Criminalising parents who do not ensure their child or children are in school, with fines or jail time up to 12 months.
  • Holding school governing bodies more accountable for disclosures of financial interests – including those related to their spouses and family members.
  • Prohibiting educators from conducting business with the state or being a director of public or private companies conducting business with the state.
  • Abolishing corporal punishment and initiation/hazing practices.
  • Allowing schools to sell alcohol outside of school hours.
  • Giving government department heads power over language policies and the curriculums a school must adopt.

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The overall response from a stakeholders’ consultation was that the laws proposed in the BELA bill appear to be the government’s attempt to centralise control of education. Image: Adobe Stock

Stakeholders react to bill

During last year’s consultation with stakeholders, certain aspects — including the compulsory Grade R, abolishing corporal punishment and merging schools where appropriate conditions are met — were met with approval.

However, many aspects of the laws were outright rejected. This includes giving heads of department control over admissions and critical decisions for the school, as well as giving the government control over schools’ language policies.

The proposal to allow the sale of alcohol at after-hours events hosted by schools did also not sit well  

According to BusinessTech, the overall response was that the laws appear to be the government’s attempt to centralise control of education.

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When and where to have your say

The public at large will now have an opportunity to have their say in the proposed laws.

Provincial public hearings on the laws will commence on Friday afternoon 24 February 2023, starting in Limpopo. Hearings are expected to continue to the North-West Province and Gauteng in March 2023.