On 21 September 2011, the Gauteng Department of Education (GDE) had a public meeting with homeschooling parents in Pretoria. This is the first time since 2004 that the GDE had a public meeting about home education, and a representative of the Association for Homeschooling, Freek Kruger, has attended this meeting. The Association also received a video recording of the meeting from the Pestalozzi Trust. The representatives from the GDE were ms. Sakiena Beg, Director of Directorate Independent Schooling and ms. Carol Motshwane, Coordinator for Home Education.
The meeting was arranged by ms. Sophie Breytenbach and the chairman of the meeting was mr. Breytenbach. During the opening, mr. Breytenbach assured the parents that the officials of the department are extremely dedicated and capable people, and parents can relax. After the meeting, ms. Breytenbach urged parents to register with the department, and criticized organisations such as the Pestalozzi Trust for making parents scared of registering and making money in the process.
As can be concluded from the titles, ms. Sakiena Beg is responsible for all independent schools, which includes home education. Ms. Carol Motshwane is only member of staff dealing with home education. The Directorate Independent Schooling is a new directorate that was started in Feb. 2011. These people in the new directorate also seem to be new, because none of the people responsible for home education in 2004 are in this new directorate. During the meeting it was also mentioned that the directorate experienced problems with their telephone system. In summary it can therefore be stated that the registration of homeschoolers in the densely populated province of Gauteng will be handled by one lady with no prior knowledge and experience on home education and a broken telephone.
According to ms. Sakiena Beg, all children must receive an education, and it is the duty of the Department of Education to ensure that this is the case. In order to enable the provincial education department to ensure that all home learners in the province are receiving an education, all home learners should be registered and will be closely monitored. If parents want to apply for registration, they can download the application form from the website of the Gauteng Department of Education. Ms. Beg has also emphasised that the department does not want to be a rubberstamp and parents will have to write a strong motivation to convince her that home education is in the interest of the learner.
When parents apply for registration, they have to sign that they undertake to meet the requirements in the SA Schools Act as well as “other reasonable conditions determined by the Head of Department”. The form and the feedback provided during the meeting provides some indications of what these “other reasonable conditions” include.
- Parents must register for home education before they start. If parents decide to home educate their children, they must apply for registration before the 31st of August of the year before they start with home education. Registrations must be renewed annually. Applications must be approved by the Director, Chief Director, Deputy Director General and Head of Department (HOD) for the HOD’s. The department will attempt to complete the registration within 30 days, but this is often not enough time. Parents are therefore requested to be patient.
- An outline of the curriculum to be used must be provided, and it must be shown that this curriculum is aligned to the National Curriculum Statement.
- Parents must provide a detailed time table and learners must receive at least 3 hours of contact time per day for 196 days per year.
- Parents that apply for registration will receive a home visit from an official of the department to verify the validity of the information provided. Currently the person that will be conducting the house visits is ms. Carol Motshwane. She stated that during such a house visit she will verify that “Home education must be a schooling system where a learner has a desk, learning space, ventilation, light, everything must be in order, just like in the classroom setup.”
- Learners must be assessed annually on all subjects of the curriculum and these assessments must be submitted to the Department by the 15th of December. At the end of Gr.3,6,9 parents must use a registered assessor. Such an assessor could be a teacher at a local school or it must be an assessor registered with the ETDP SETA. The costs of these assessment must paid by parents.
- Parents must do the majority of the teaching and cannot outsource the education to a tutor. If a tutor educates the children in a family, they must register as an independent school.
The reaction of the Association for Homeschooling to the viewpoints of the GDE is as follows:
- The supreme law in South Africa is the constitution. The cornerstone of the constitution is the Bill of Rights which is described in chapter 2 of the constitution. According to the constitution, the child’s best interests are of paramount importance in every matter concerning the child. Requirements that parents must apply for registration before they start with home education and that this must be done before a certain date has nothing to do with the best interests of the child, but everything to do with the best interests of the bureaucracy of the provincial department of education. These types of requirements are therefore unconstitutional. For example, if parents decide in January that they want to home educate their child, because the child is bullied at school, the requirements of the department imply that the child must be bullied for another year before that parent can take the child out of school.
- When interpreting the Bill of Rights, the constitution also requires in art. 39 (1) (b) that courts must consider international law. One piece of international law that is applicable to this situation is art. 26 (3) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states that parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children. The word “prior” indicates that the right of the parents weighs more than the rights of government. It is therefore illegal for GDE to require that parents are not allowed to homeschool their children prior to government approval.
- Judge Cynthia Pretorius confirmed in die Pretoria High Court on the 25th of March 2011 that the state curriculum is not binding on independent schools and parents who educate their children at home. It is therefore illegal for the GDE to require of homeschooling parents to submit to the curriculum outline and show that this curriculum is aligned to the National Curriculum Statement.
- Just like it is illegal for GDE to prescribe the content of education for homelearners, it is also illegal to prescribe the distribution of education that homelearners should receive by requiring a minimum of 196 days of schooling per year.
- According to art. 14 of the constitution everybody has the right not to have their person or home searched, or their property searched. Requiring parents to agree to a home visit is an infringement of the right of privacy, especially in the light of fact that there are much less intrusive ways to verify the information that parents have provided.
- The SA Schools Act does require that home education must not be inferior to the standard of education provided at public schools. This means that the standard of home education must not be inferior to the education actually provided at the worst public school in the country, and not the standard prescribed by the National Curriculum Statement. Unless GDE provides parents with the standard of education actually provided, there is no sense in requiring parents to perform annual assessments, because there is no baseline to which the outcomes of the assessment can be compared.
- Nowhere does any law require that home education should mainly be provided by parents. It is therefore an illegal requirement of GDE to prescribe who may provide the education in the home.
The above arguments clearly prove that parents that want to register their children for home education at the GDE will be required to meet various conditions that are not stipulated by law. When this is the case, it is legal not to register with the GDE. It is because law abiding parents want to ensure that they do not break the law by meeting illegal requirements requested by government officials, that more than 90% of parents do not register their children. Home-educating parents are well-advised to seek competent legal advice and defence before they find themselves unwittingly cooperating with the illegal demands of the GDE. Legal services unfortunately come at a great cost, but one way of affording this would be to pool funds with other parents with the same need. The Pestalozzi Trust is a trust fund set up for just such a purpose. They can be contacted through their website at www.pestalozzi.org