COSATU has presented its submission on the Basic Education Laws Amendment Bill to Parliament

The Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) presented its submission on the Basic Education Laws Amendment (BELA) Bill to Parliament’s Portfolio Committee: Basic Education.

The BELA Bill contains several progressive and some long overdue provisions.  These include:

  1. Establishing Grade R as a required part of schooling for all learners.  This will help lay a stronger foundation for learners entering Grade 1.
  2. Strengthening provisions requiring learners to attend school and holding parents accountable for their children’s attendance.
  3. Clear guidelines for school admission and diversity inclusivity policies to prevent unfair discrimination and exclusion of learners.
  4. Clear guidelines as well checks and balances for school language of instruction policies to ensure that learners’ needs and diversity are accommodated.
  5. Recognition of South African Sign Language as a language of instruction and learning.
  6. Strengthening rules prohibiting drugs, alcohol and weapons from schools and empowering schools to search for and confiscate such items as needed.
  7. Banning corporal punishment and initiation practices from schools.
  8. Centralised procurement of key materials, e.g. textbooks, which can help save costs and reduce corruption.
  9. Making it easier for single parents to register their children at school when their ex-partners are absent.
  10. Measures to ensure financial accountability and prohibit officials from doing business with schools.

Whilst welcoming these progressive provisions, COSATU remains deeply concerned with several problematic provisions in the Bill that need to be removed and amended. 

The Federation rejects the provision in the Bill criminalising any disruptions of schools.  This definition of school disruptions is too broad, unconstitutional and will effectively criminalise teachers and education workers for exercising their constitutional and legal rights to picket, protest and strike.  Such a ban won’t pass constitutional muster and will be challenged in the Constitutional Court if not removed by Parliament from the Bill.

COSATU is deeply opposed to the Bill’s proposals to allow alcohol to be sold on school premises as part of their fundraising purposes.  Whilst there is a place for the responsible consumption of liquor in society, school is not that place.  South Africa has a serious problem with the over consumption and abuse of alcohol.  The high rates of road accidents and fatalities, domestic and gender-based violence, and Foetal Alcohol Syndrome are evidence of society’s dangerously unhealthy relationship with alcohol.  Young people are particularly susceptible to alcohol and binge drinking.  If we are serious about tackling alcohol abuse, then Parliament must remove the provisions allowing alcohol sales at schools.

COSATU is deeply worried about the Department of Basic Education’s over reliance on learner numbers as the criteria for closing or merging schools.  This places learners in farming and remote rural areas who live far from schools at a serious disadvantage.  Additional criteria need to be included, in particular the distance learners must travel to school and the availability of learner transport.

COSATU urges Parliament to be bold and extend the compulsory school years from Grade 9 to 12.  An unaffordably high number of learners exit schools at age 15 or Grade 9 as currently allowed.  This is sending an army of youth into the economy without the necessary education, skills and qualifications needed to find work and to take care of the families.  Learners should be required to remain in school until completing Grade 12 or in a TVET or vocational college.  If we are to ensure young people can find work, grow the economy and create jobs, then we need to increase, not decrease the number of learners in schools and colleges.

Issued by COSATU

For further information please contact:
Matthew Parks-COSATU Parliamentary Coordinator
082 7850 687