BELA Bill Officially Passed In The National Assembly

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The contentious BELA Bill has been passed in the National Assembly. Education Minister Angie Motshekga has explained how schools are set to be impacted should the bill be signed into law by the President. 

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Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga hailed the National Assembly's passing of the Basic Education Laws Amendment Bill (BELA Bill) as a "watershed moment" for education in South Africa. The bill passed with 223 votes in favour and 78 against.

The BELA Bill is poised to drastically change South Africa’s education system providing education departments with increased oversight on schools. 

However, with the increased oversight came fears and concerns that power was being taken away from School Governing Bodies (SGBs). Where in past SGBs would be responsible for school admissions and language policies, the bill seeks to ensure fairness in the implementation of these policies. 

There's a common misconception that the Bill aims to erode the autonomy of School Governing Bodies. This is false. In reality, it aspires to harmonise the powers of the SGB with the directives of the relevant provincial head of department. 

Motshekga addressed concerns the bill would erode school autonomy and limit parental rights, calling such claims "lies" spread by opponents of public education.

The minister said the DBE undertook an extensive public consultation process to ensure that the bill, including over 5,000 public comments and discussions with education officials.

In its development phase, the Bill saw the submission of almost 5,000 comments from the public, alongside 144 petitions with a collective weight of 195,695 names. Such engagement underscores the deep-rooted public interest in and commitment to refining our basic education system.

What The Bill Changes 

Motshekga says the BELA bill aims to balance SGB authority with ensuring language policies are inclusive and uphold the right to basic education.

The bill mandates schools to offer compassionate and practical support to pregnant learners, not dictate personal decisions. 

The minister's regulatory power isn't about dictating personal decisions or delving into health matters such as abortion. It's centred on ensuring schools adopt a compassionate and pragmatic stance towards supporting pregnant pupils.

The Minister refuted claims the bill promotes abortion, stating it has nothing to do with the termination of pregnancy. 

"The BELA Bill makes no mention whatsoever of termination of pregnancy or abortion as some political party members have said repeatedly in public".

Motshekga clarified that SGBs retain control over admissions policies, with the Department of Education only intervening in cases of discrimination.

They explained that the Bill aims to guarantee that their constitutional right to education remains intact. Additionally, the BELA Bill unequivocally places the responsibility of determining the admission policy in the hands of the SGB. It states: "The admission policy of a public school is determined by the governing body of such school."

Therefore, it is mischievous to contend that this power is being removed from the SGB.

The Minister explained, "Within the confines of the law, the Head of Department (HOD) will only intervene where an admission policy discriminates against a pupil, which our Constitution frowns upon."

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South Africa's education system is set to drastically change with the adoption of the BELA Bill. The changes could reduce oversight of school admissions and language policies, sparking concerns about potential discrimination and unequal access to quality education.

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