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Equal Education slams Bela Bill proposal to prosecute parents for children not attending school

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The non-profit organisations – Equal Education and the Equal Education Law Centre – have slammed proposals in the Basic Education Laws Amendment (Bela) Bill to prosecute parents who fail to ensure their children attend school.

The two organisations have however welcomed the introduction of compulsory education for Grade R, but said this must be done in a phased manner because many schools were overcrowded.

Equal Education and Equal Education Law Centre were appearing before the select committee on education and technology in the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) on the Bela Bill.

Compulsory Grade R welcomed

Tatiana Kazim, a senior legal researcher at the Equal Education Law Centre, said the introduction of compulsory Grade R was a positive step, but it must be done in a phased approach.

This was one of the major changes brought about the bill. Kazim said they welcome the change.

She said making Grade R compulsory would improve access to free learning opportunities for many marginalised children.

Kazim said this will call on the parents to ensure their children attend school.

But she said many schools were already bursting at the seams and it would be difficult to accommodate more children. There were many schools that were overcrowded and some of the learners were not placed in school.

“Thousands of learners are unplaced each year by the Department of Basic Education’s own estimates and many other learners are packed into other overcrowded classrooms,” said Kazim.

She said at present many children attend Grade R at Early Childhood Centres (ECDs) in communities and if these children were removed and immediately put into schools it will add to overcrowding.

“We do not think it will be desirable at least in the short-term to require that those children attending Grade R at ECD centres are taken out of those classes and instead somehow must be accommodated in already overcrowded schools with criminal sanctions attached if parents fail to comply.

“For that reason we strongly recommend a phased approach to the introduction of compulsory school attendance starting from Grade R. We think it shouldn’t become compulsory at least until two years or so after the Act comes into force just to give everyone time to adapt to this very big change,” said Kazim’.

Criminalizing parents

Legal researcher at Equal Education Law Centre Katherine Sutherland said they were against the provisions of the Bela Bill to criminalise parents who fail to ensure children were in school.

She said there were many socio-economic reasons that lead to this situation.

“We don’t condone the conduct of parents who fail to ensure their children receive basic education, but we are of the strong view that the prosecution of these parents represents an ill-advised attempt to impose an easy answer on a very intricate issue.”

Sutherland said the department should focus on providing more resources to poor schools. This was to ensure children receive basic quality education.

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