The Basic Education Laws Amendment (BELA) Bill was introduced to parliament on 10 January 2022 and should concern everyone who is part of the school community. This is because the draft bill proposes to amend the South African Schools Act and the Employment of Educators Act.
In a sitting meant to inform stakeholders of the implications of the BELA bill, the Equal Education Law Centre, which advocates for quality and equality in the South African education system, addressed the problematic issues around documentation requirements, corporal punishment and compulsory school attendnce
Anjuli Maistry Senior Attorney from the Equal Education Law Centre explained that the bill categorises and groups learners into population groups (SA Citizens, permanent residents, refugees and asylum seekers). Depending on what group learners fall into determines which documents they require.
Maistry says this raised red flags for civil groups due to the fact that parents could be fined or imprisoned for not submitting or securing the required documentation. Learners will however still be allowed to be admitted to school regardless of whether they produce the documents.
She says it is problematic that parents and caregivers will be criminalised if they “refuse” to cooperate in securing the required documents. However, parents and caregivers could face barriers out of their control, making it impossible to obtain these documentation.
The criminalisation of caregivers also does not achieve anything as it will not automatically solve the lack of documentation of children. It also does not take into account the best interest of the children.
Maistry believes this could result in learners being put in vulnerable positions while making more room for rejection, exclusion and discrimination.
The Equal Education Law Centre has recommended that the ‘required’ documents content be removed from BELA.
They also want the removal of a clause that would allow governing bodies to allow the sale of alcohol on school premises. This could be harmful to learners but could be crucial for fundraising at schools.