Education officials are still finalising the Basic Education Laws Amendment (BELA) Bill, which is set to include some changes to the home education landscape in South Africa. This will particularly affect home education learners between the ages of seven and 15 years old (Grades 1 – 9). The bill is still in draft form and it’s unclear when it will be promulgated. Its implementation will also likely be phased. But if you’ve decided to educate your child at home, you may be asking what this new bill could mean for you.
Firstly, it’s important to note that the new bill is not all that different from the current South African Schools Act in terms of home education, and there’s little reason to be alarmed. Indeed, much of the detail can be found in the 2018 Home Education Policy, while the Regulations, which will become law, are still in draft form. The following are the most important issues that parents need to be aware of with regard to the act, the bill and the policy.
The first key point is that, in terms of both the current act and the draft bill, parents are required to register their children for home education with their Provincial Department of Basic Education. There are an estimated 100 000 home education learners in South Africa but only about 1 500 were registered across the country at the end of 2018. In light of this, the new bill changes the legal ramifications for parents who fail to register their children from what is currently a six-month imprisonment sentence to a possible six-year sentence instead.
Although these regulations may seem severe – even in their current incarnation – the state has a constitutional responsibility to protect the rights of the child. These penalties are in place to ensure that children receive education aligned to their age, grade, level and ability. This approach is not about curbing home education, which is often the misconception, but about helping to ensure that due processes are followed and that children receive an education that is not inferior to the standard expected in a public school. (Home education parents wanting to register their children with the department can find new forms under the services tab on the Department of Basic Education’s website.)
There has been much publicity about the BELA Bill granting the department greater oversight on what home education children are taught. This publicity has included concerns over home visits by education officials prior to home education status being approved. The reality is that these monitoring regulations are already in place; the new bill doesn’t change them at all.
Because South Africa’s national curriculum is pegged on a qualification framework that is internationally recognised, home education curriculums need to conform to these standards. Once again, this is to ensure that the education these learners receive is in not inferior to what is expected for their specific development stages. Parents still have the option to develop or choose their own curriculums, select their own textbooks and decide on their own promotion criteria, as long as they are aligned to the standards set by the national curriculum.
The BELA Bill does, however, demand that parents who choose the home education route should make use of independent service providers in the Further Education and Training (FET) phase, which consists of Grades 10 to 12. This is to ensure that learners can obtain credible marks for their school-based assessments and are able to obtain the National Senior Certificate (NSC) issued by Umalusi.
To support parents in ensuring that their children receive a quality education, organisations such as Impaq offer competent assessors, as required by law. These assessors are qualified and experienced in conducting the annual assessment of home education learners in all subjects and at a particular level, in line with BELA’s requirements.
During the FET phase, providers such as Impaq further play a key role by registering home education learners with an independent assessment body, such as the South African Comprehensive Assessment Institute (SACAI), which is moderated and quality assured by Umalusi. This registration ensures that the school-based assessment requirements for the NSC are met by means of the assessments conducted by an education service provider, such as Impaq.
In conclusion, the best steps parents can take at this point include registering their children with their Provincial Department of Basic Education; following a curriculum that reflects the minimum requirements for their children’s age, grade, level and ability; and preparing them properly for their NSC using the support offered by education service providers. With these measures in place, home education learners are destined for success.
Professor Rita Niemann is the Head of Academics at FutureLearn. Impaq, South Africa’s leading home education provider.