You can't 'chalk-and-talk' at Grade R pupils... and other concerns about the R16bn BELA Bill

21st August 2023 By: News24Wire

The contentious Basic Education Laws Amendment (BELA) Bill, which seeks to transform various aspects of the schooling system, has once again drawn negative criticism - this time from the SA Childcare Association, which takes issue with the proposed chalk-and-talk methodology.

It says the approach is not suitable for pupils in Grade R, which will be expanded to 7 888 schools if they become part of the formal schooling system.

Grade R is managed within the broader context of early childhood development (ECD), as regulated by the Education White Paper 5 of 2021.

But the Bill wants to make Grade R the new compulsory entry point for school.

Other clauses include making it a criminal offence for parents who do not enrol their children in a school, holding school governing bodies (SGB) accountable for financial interests, allowing schools to sell alcohol outside of school hours for fundraising activities, giving government department heads power over language policies and curriculums, and prohibiting educators from conducting business with the state.

Some education stakeholders have voiced their concerns, including one who says the Bill amounts to a policy that is running ahead of reality.

Arno van der Merwe from the SA Childcare Association said the fact that Grade R might become compulsory could benefit children.

However, that would depend on the mode of delivery, he said.

"A chalk-and-talk approach would not suffice," whereas a learning-through-play approach would definitely be more beneficial to any child's development.

Van der Merwe also wanted to know where the financial resources would come from to implement the new legislation once passed.

Basil Manuel, the executive director of the National Professional Teachers' Organisation of South Africa (Naptosa), said "many crazy things" were happening around the Bill.

"This is a policy running ahead of the reality we are in. To accommodate Grade R is an extensive exercise that must be done sooner than later," Manuel said.

Ben Machipi, secretary-general of the Professional Educators Union (PEU), said the union was satisfied with their input on the Bill.

"We are aware of the recent walkout staged by some political parties in Parliament during the discussion of the BELA Bill. It is unfortunate that as final arbiters of the Bill, they do not sing from the same page," he said.

South African Democratic Teachers Union (Sadtu) spokesperson Nomusa Cembi said: "We recommend that the current provision in the act in terms of fines and imprisonment must be maintained, and we must ensure the effective monitoring of the enforcement of this provision. On pupil admission, it is our view that admission requirements and procedures be legislated to address issues of equity and access and to level the playing field."

She said schools and governing bodies must remain responsible for the administration of the process with provision for the head of the department to intervene in identified instances.

Cembi said the clause on the selling of alcohol on school premises should be removed.

"There should be a complete prohibition of dangerous objects, alcohol and illegal drugs on school premises. Also, the school and the governing bodies must remain responsible for the administration," she added.

National Association of School Governing Bodies (NASGB) general-secretary, Matakanye Matakanye, said the association disagreed with some clauses.

"The department should leave the homeschooling and religion clauses as they are. We also do not want any alcohol sold on school premises. The liquor board did not make a mistake when it said taverns should be 500 metres away from school," he said.

Matakanye said there were different religions in the country, and that Section 36  of the Constitution says schools can limit those.

"Imagine a child who is a member of the 'Rhabula' church where they believe in drinking alcohol and forcing to be allowed to drink alcohol at school. Or a child from a Rastafarian background who will demand to smoke weed at school. It will not work," he said.

The Department of Basic Education told the committee that it needed R16-billion to implement the Bill - 12-billion for infrastructure development and an estimated R4-billion for staffing requirements.

This week, the Portfolio Committee on Basic Education began deliberations on the Bill.

Deliberations were cancelled on Tuesday when three committee members - the DA's Baxolile Nodada, his colleague Marina van Zyl and African Christian Democratic Party MP Marie Sukers - staged a walkout after committee chairperson Bongiwe Mbinqo-Gigaba adopted the national hearings report, which provides a consolidation of progress undertaken in processing the BELA Bill.

The committee deliberated the Bill clause by clause on Wednesday.