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The Right to a Basic Education

According to the constitution of South Africa (Section 29(1)) everyone has the right to basic education. The constitution unfortunately does not define the term basic education. The Department of Basic Education (DBE) states in the Education Information Standards, Dictionary of Education Concepts and Terms 2010 that the definition of education is: “Education undertaken in an educational institution established, declared or registered in terms of the Child Care Act, South African Schools Act, Adult Basic Education Act, Further Education and Training Colleges Act, Higher Education Act or a provincial law.” This is not a very helpful definition as it still leaves us with the question; “What is a basic education?” And is the public-school system offering a basic education to all?

The easiest way for government to comply with the right to a basic education is to make school attendance compulsory for children between the ages of 7 and 15 or from grade 1 to grade 9 whichever is attained first. (The South African Schools Act, no 84 of 1996). The DBE can then safely say that they have fulfilled their mandate. This and their definition of education would explain why the Gauteng Department of Education in a school communicator announcement in August stated that if one’s child is not registered at a legal institution one is in contempt of the child’s right to education. Many home educating parents choose not to register with the DBE because they lawfully cannot agree to the requirements of such registration.

But is simply attending school enough when, according to the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) 2016 eight in ten Grade 4 children (78%) cannot read for meaning? Or when grade 7 pupils cannot solve problems or calculate that 24 divided by 8 equals 3? The Economist reported in January 2017 that South Africa ranked 75th out of 76, in a ranking table of education systems drawn up by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in 2015.

For a better definition of basic education, we must turn to Article 11 of The African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child to which South Africa is a signatory and to UN Convention Article 29 that states that every child has the right to an education, to develop his or her personality, talents and mental and physical abilities to their fullest potential.

Justice Bess Nkabinde explained in a judgment made in 2011 that: “The significance of education, in particular basic education, for individual and societal development in our democratic dispensation in the light of the legacy of apartheid, cannot be overlooked. The inadequacy of schooling facilities, particularly for many blacks, was entrenched by the formal institution of apartheid, after 1948, when segregation even in education and schools in South Africa was codified. Today, the lasting effects of the educational segregation of apartheid are discernible in the systemic problems of inadequate facilities and the discrepancy in the level of basic education for the majority of learners. ... [B]asic education is an important socioeconomic right directed, among other things, at promoting and developing a child‘s personality, talents and mental and physical abilities to his or her fullest potential. Basic education also provides a foundation for a child‘s lifetime learning and work opportunities.

Guided by these definitions, one must question whether the DBE is promoting the child’s right to a basic education? Can a learner’s talents and potential truly be developed to the full in a class of 35 or more? Or when children are taught in their third language? Can we attain this standard of basic education when children are treated as a collective rather than an individual? Or when the DBE desire for there to be only one curriculum and one Matric qualification exam?

If we measure basic education to the desired outcomes as stated above, surely there are many ways in which it can be attained? Especially if a desired outcome is the ability to think critically and creatively. Home education is a sure means of educating a child to his/her fullest potential.

The child is treated as an individual. Learning is child-led under the guidance of the parent. The curriculum and resources (of which there are a myriad brilliant resources) can be chosen to suit the individual’s learning style, needs and interests. The content, unlike that of a national curriculum can be changed at the drop of a hat in answer to the shifting trends in technology, information and the economy. Home education also treasures the African culture of storytelling and community involvement. According to Article 18 of The African Charter on the rights and welfare of the child: “Families are the natural unit and basis for society, and should enjoy special protection.” Home education values the family unit and the child’s part in it.

Does home education support equal education? If we consider that every child has the right to develop to his/her fullest potential, we are clearly referring to the individual child and not the collective. Equal (adj) means being the same in quantity, size, degree; evenly balanced. Equal (v) means to reach the same standard as; match. If the standard to be reached is a basic education that will enable the learner to continue learning and for a life-time of work opportunities, then yes. But if the standard is (public-) school attendance, then the answer is no.

The only question that remains is which definition of Basic Education do you want for your child?

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Friday, 30 September 2022

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