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DBE seeks harsher penalties for parents of non-school goers

Date: Feb 12, 2020

The Basic Education Department says it wants to increase the penalty for parents and guardians from six months to six years imprisonment who do not ensure that their children are in school.

This as the department continues having engagements with stakeholders on the Basic Education Laws Amendment (BELA) Bill, which seeks to amend sections of the South African Schools Act.

The Bill was published in the Government Gazette in 2017 and requires that parents who wish to home educate their children register with the department in order to formalise the medium.

Currently, Section 3 of the South African Schools Act provides that parents who do not ensure that their children attend school from the age of seven until the learner reaches the age of 15 or Grade 9, will be guilty of an offence and liable on conviction to a fine or imprisonment for a period not exceeding six months. However, the BELA Bill seeks to extend the penalty to six years.

Section 51 of the Act also prescribes that children be registered with the department through their relevant Provincial Education Departments (PEDs) after which the HOD will either reject or approve the application.

Other changes include that the content and skills of the curriculum to be used by home learners must be at least comparable to the national curriculum and not of inferior quality to the education the learner would receive at a public school, and that home learners must be assessed annually by registered assessors at the parent’s own cost.

However, of the about 100 000 home scholars that are in South Africa, only 1 500 are registered with the Department of Basic Education. This is according to a national census on home education conducted in 2011.

Department Spokesperson, Elijah Mhlanga says they want the law to protect children.

“We want all parents who wish to take their children out of mainstream schools to register them so that we can know how many there are and where they are in order for us to be able to monitor learning and teaching which will be happening in the home. So we require registration to happen, but we also want the law to protect the children by ensuring that any parent who prevents a child from accessing education faces a sentence of up to six years because we are aware that there are several children around the country who are not in school and there are no valid reasons given for that.”

This call has ruffled the feathers of some. The Association for Homeschooling has rejected the BELA Bill saying requiring parents to request permission from the department to home school their children is an absurd demand and unreasonable interference in the child’s right to parental care. Shaun Green of the association says the Bill is not practical or beneficial.

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