Shirley’s Comments on the Draft Policy on Home Education

 

[Note: In my submission I included quotes from the Discussion Document on Home Education 17/06/2015 distributed by the DBE to attendees at their meeting on home education in July 2015. This document was clearly marked “for consultation purposes, not for publication or general distribution”. I have therefore edited this webpage and removed the quotations and replaced them with a short summary in parentheses.]

DRAFT POLICY ON HOME EDUCATION – Comment on the Policy

  1. Summary

I welcome and appreciate my democratic right and duty to comment on the draft policy on home education. As a home educating parent, curriculum provider and home education consultant this is very important to me as the draft policy potentially has significant implications for my own children of compulsory school age and the families, whom I serve in the wider home educating community.

It has been incredibly stressful to find the time to research both the draft policy and the BELA Bill which were published just over a month apart, at a time of year when my two home-based businesses are at their busiest and we are swamped with year-end functions for the activities that our family are involved in.

In spite of many late nights, spent researching and studying this, I have not been able to give this matter the time and full attention that I would have liked to, so that I can understand the policy and laws and their implications adequately and properly formulate my objections and arguments against them. I will continue this process even after the closing date for comments, in order to be better informed and more capable of giving appropriate comments in future.

My comments will not follow a clause-by-clause analysis of the draft policy as requested, as I believe that it is fundamentally flawed and should be withdrawn and redrafted.

Instead I object to the lack of adequate time for public participation at the busiest time of the year, just before the school holidays and festive season and so close on the heels of the BELA Bill.

I object to the lack of meaningful consultation with home education stakeholders and the disregard shown for the limited input that was received by the DBE from home education representatives in 2014 and 2015. This was a façade, but their intention to make home education conform to the suit the interests of the DBE and other stakeholders has become evident.

Although the laws pertaining to children, parents and education were included in the policy, which is a good thing, the practical implications of the policy are in conflict with most of these and violate the rights of children. There is no good evidence to support the need to limit the rights and freedom of home educating families.

I also present evidence that the policy has not followed the guidelines of the DBE’s own task team on home education. I have quoted a number of times from the Discussion Document on Home Education distributed by the DBE in June 2015 and referenced it in my footnotes. This document was distributed to participants of the meetings about home education held by the DBE in Pretoria in July 2015. I was one of the attendees and I find it disappointing that the DBE has subsequently ignored the advice of their own Task Team on Home Education, who compiled that document and the significant information that was contained in it.

It is self-implicating evidence of their subsequent disregard for the available research on home education, their lack of knowledge and experience of this educational phenomenon and the lack of meaningful engagement and co-operation with home educators to find common ground and a solution to points of contention.

I recommend that this process should be restarted and a new draft policy should be written or the DBE will find itself facing many unintended consequences.

 

  1. General Comments

 2.1 Lack of time for meaningful public participation

 The draft policy was published on 17 November 2017 and the closing date for comments is a mere 21 days later, on 8 December 2017. This is completely inadequate for members of the public, who are not well-schooled in the legalities of legislating or education, to read and understand this document and then formulate their comments and any objections.

This letter is written under duress as I have had to spend considerable time researching various aspects of the policy and laws pertaining to my children’s rights, my parental responsibilities, educational freedom, freedom of expression and reasonable and just limitations on personal freedom as enshrined in the Constitution. I have not yet completed that research or studied and understood fully that which I have already discovered.

Considering that this falls in one of the busiest time of the year, 21 days can hardly be adequate time for effective public participation.

In the spirit of true democracy, public participation should be encouraged and facilitated.

In the Constitution of South Africa, Section 195(1)(e) provides that the public administration “must be governed by the democratic values and principles enshrined in the Constitution”, including that the people’s “needs must be responded to, and the public must be encouraged to participate in policy-making”. Section 195(1)(g), further, provides that transparency “must be fostered by providing the public with timely, accessible and accurate information”.

The Constitution enjoins the public administration to encourage public participation in policy making. Allowing only 21 days at the peak busy time of the year hardly suggests that the DBE is sincerely seeking and encouraging public participation.

I would urge the DBE to show good faith and extend the date for comments until well after the festive season in the new year to 2 February 2018.

 

 2.2 Lack of meaningful consultation with home education stakeholders

Although some home education representatives, including myself, were invited to attend meetings with the DBE task team on home education in 2014 and 2015, it appears that this was merely a façade as there is no evidence that the intentions of the DBE to control home education were influenced and changed in any significant way after that.

Public participation does not simply mean inviting stakeholders to give a presentation, it means that policy makers should actually listen to them and be influenced by their input and work towards mutually agreeable, workable legislation for the benefit of those it affects. The DBE needs to remember that their role is to serve citizens in a democratic society.

 

The Discussion Document on Home Education dated 6/17/2015 published by the Home Education Task Team for Discussion with the Home Education Stakeholder community at the meetings I attended in 2015 stated:

[Quotation removed. In a nutshell, it listed guidelines for formulating an effective policy that will be acceptable to home educators and fulfill the responsibilities of the state] [1]

This was encouraging. It is my guess that most of that working document was written by Dr Trevor Coombe as he was the only member of the DBE who seemed to have studied home education research and showed in his discussion, an indepth appreciation for home education as a vastly different paradigm from the state school system.

 

Unfortunately, he retired shortly after that meeting and what happened thereafter showed that the above was completely disregarded by the remaining members of the DBE task team on home education:

After that, only three of the group of home educators present in July 2015 were invited back to participate further in the working groups, in their personal capacities.

These home education representatives reported that they felt a moral obligation to withdraw from the process as their inputs were being ignored, but the DBE seemed intent on using their names to keep up the façade of consultation with stakeholders. They all offered to be available in an advisory capacity thereafter, but their offers were ignored.[2]

There was little to no effort to

  • continue build good relationships with home education representatives,
  • to listen to the objections and conflicted responses of the three home educators invited to the subsequent working group meetings in their personal capacities,
  • there was no effort to find solutions to the issue or common ground on the contentious issues raised in previous meetings
  • no further effort to develop mutual trust and
  • there has been no independent research by the DBE to present convincing evidence that the proposed changes to the policy are needed and in the best interests of the children they affect.

The content of the draft policy is evidence that the DBE has ignored the intimate knowledge of home education, which was presented to them by home education stakeholders, which the majority of DBE officials most definitely lack, being bureaucrats, whose experience is limited to that of the school system. It displays a shocking level of ignorance and arrogance on the part of the DBE.

For this reason, this policy should be withdrawn until the above fundamental requirements proposed by the DBE task team itself have been met.

 

“Collecting data on human learning based on children’s behavior in school is like collecting data on killer whales based on their behavior at Sea World.” ~ Carol Black [3]

 

 

2.3 The draft Policy pre-empts discussion of the BELA Bill in Parliament

The draft Basic Education Amendments Laws Bill was published in October 2017. It seems a waste of time, effort and resources to publish a draft policy based on the current version of the SA Schools Act, if the intention is to amend it by means of the BELA Bill in the near future.

The content of the draft policy refers to proposed amendments which appear in the draft BELA Bill and not in the current SA Schools Act. This confirms that the DBE is intent on steamrollering its own agenda through Parliament, without first being influenced by the process of meaningful public participation and amending these two draft documents accordingly.

 

2.4 Not evidence-based

Since very few officials of the DBE seem to have done much research on home education in South Africa or the world, the proposed amendments and intervention in the draft policy is not supported by evidence and it may be found to be arbitrary, irrational and unconstitutional.

The proposed changes seem to focus solely on meeting the needs of the bureaucracy and the one home education curriculum provider, whose representatives participated in the working group on monitoring and curriculum implementation. It seems to suit the financial interests of the latter enterprise and not the home educating citizens, particularly the children, that are most affected by the policy and its requirements.

It does not respect the legal position of the Constitution and the Children’s Act defining where the responsibility for the education of children lies. Instead it shows a desire to administer, monitor and control home education, with unreasonable and unjustifiable effects on the rights of the children.

This is unconstitutional as the constitution states that “the best interests of the child must be paramount” in all decisions and the onus lies on the DBE to show that any limitations are reasonable and justifiable.

[Quotation removed. It said that a viable policy must be born out of a good understanding of home education, based on trustworthy research.][4] [5]

As the two quotes above show, the DBE has failed to take its own task team’s advice!

I recommend that this advice should be followed and the current policy should be withdrawn until this goal has been achieved.

Only by conducting proper research or at least acknowledging international research on home education, can the DBE show the public that its policies are supported by evidence and that they will benefit the home educating families in South Africa.

Without proper research and a “thorough knowledge of home education” and all its diversity, achieving a policy that is lawful in terms of the Constitution, acceptable to home educators, enforceable and not rife with unintended consequences and contentious issues is highly unlikely.

A considerable bibliography was provided in the DBE’s Discussion Document on Home Education in 2015 and officials would be better equipped to serve home educators well if they studied those resources in order to be better informed about home education and all that it entails.

2.5 Potentially Violates Home Education as a Human Right and Responsibilities of Home Educators

The central issue that concerns all home educators is the rights of their children and their responsibility to protect their children from unreasonable and unjust interference from the state.  The policy has failed to demonstrate that the many restrictive requirements it proposes are reasonable and justifiable.

Instead it gives absolute discretion to the Head of Department (HOD) and the officials s/he may delegate to perform his/her functions and this makes it open to inconsistency and abuse.

While the policy does include sections from the Constitution as well as legal instruments that pertain to education and children, there are also sections which violate these legal requirements and may render it unconstitutional and therefore unenforceable.

It is unlikely that parents will comply with this policy in its current form.

I recommend that the DBE should read the Rio Principles published at the Global Home Education Conference in Rio in 2016, which reflect the existing state of international human rights law in relation to issues of home education, which I have attached for your convenience.

Officials of the DBE were invited to attend this international home education conference and it was disappointing that none bothered to attend.  This suggests a lack of sincere interest in home education and protecting the interests of children who pursue education at home.

2.6 Home education is not School-at-Home

“…home education succeeds because it is child-centred. The education is tailored to suit each individual child to ensure mastery and the parents are highly motivated to help their children achieve success in education and in life in general!

For many, public schooling fails for many reasons – its focus is on policies, procedures, administrators, teachers and controlling large groups of children. The needs of the individual are superceded by the needs of the System (my capital), in which many children fail to learn.

While there are ‘islands of excellence’ in the South African school system, the majority of children who are forced to attend schools do not receive adequate education.[6]

Research in the USA has shown that the degree of state control and regulation of homeschooling is not related to academic achievement of home learners. The achievement of home learners in states that are highly regulated is no different from states where there is no regulation.[7]

Classroom pedagogy is not the model that works best in the home education scenario. (One might also question its effectiveness in the school system!)

The school system is designed to facilitate the administration of a system imposed on the masses. It’s a one-size-fits all approach designed to control both teachers and learners.

In contrast with the CAPS system currently implemented in the failing school system, home education is innovative, flexible, responsive to individual learning needs and highly individualised. When a curriculum isn’t serving the needs of a learner, a parent doesn’t have to wait 20 years to update it, she can change it instantly and find a better solution.

Home educators are redefining education and re-establishing the boundaries of work, learning and family life. They are escaping the limitations of the school system and successfully educating their children and equipping them to be economically productive adults, who can be self-supporting in the rapidly changing working milieu of the 21st century.

Instead of trying to force home education to become a home-based replica of the school system, the DBE should be consulting with innovative (home) educators in the private sector to find solutions for the failures of the outdated state school system. I would be happy to make a few recommendations on request.

 

The DBE Task Team wrote:

[Quotations removed. It said that it is not viable to impose a school model on home education which is a fluid, responsive form of education.] [8] [9]

The draft policy on home education has ignored the above. The requirements of the draft policy, as well as the demands of the current school system undermine the provisions of the Constitution to hold each child’s best interests paramount.

The current draft policy will destroy the many benefits that home education offers that mass education can never achieve, such as individualised learning, which is in the best interests of each unique child.

Given the above, I could pick apart the policy clause by clause and object to each point, but all of my objections would be encompassed in the above objection.

It is not my role to rewrite defective policy, nor do I have the time, given the looming deadline for comments. However, as a home educating parent with 20 years experience, a home education advisor for 15 years, a curriculum author and the only commercially published author of two books on home education in South Africa, I would be most willing and enthusiastic to again meet with officials of the DBE.

I would share my intimate knowledge and experience of home educating my own six children, my 20 years of reading and researching this topic that is my passion, as well as sharing the experiences of others in the local homeschooling network in South Africa so that we (home educators and officials of the DBE) can start over, establish the relationship and trust required, enlighten policy makers about home education further and work towards a mutually acceptable and constitutionally legitimate policy on home education.

  1. Conclusion

 The DBE has not given adequate time for meaningful public participation and comment on the draft policy. Home educators need more time to understand the legal implications and possible consequences of the policy on them. It is unreasonable to publish a policy at the busiest time of the year. This does not encourage public participation as prescribed by the Constitution.

 The DBE has ignored the input of the  majority of respected home education stakeholders and only included those in the process who supported their agenda of making home education conform to the model of public schooling and the curriculum requirements set out in the draft policy.

The draft policy pre-empts the passing of the BELA Bill and is evidence of the DBE’s lack of respect for public participation in the process of drafting legislation and policy.

The policy seeks to make home education a replication of school-at-home.

The policy seeks to impose a conceptual straightjacket on a form of education which is flexible, innovative, creative and responsive to needs of each individual learner. It seeks to prescribe rigid outcomes and imposes unreasonable requirements and limitations on home educators.

The provisions of the policy conflict with human rights laws, the Constitution and other applicable legal instruments and violate the rights of children and the responsibilities of their parents protected by these laws.

The DBE should withdraw the policy and rewrite it after meaningful consultation with home education stakeholders, in an atmosphere of mutual respect and trust, after more officials have studied the available research and laws pertaining to home education and gained an appreciation for this form of education which is outside their immediate frame of reference and previous experience.

I conclude, with the words of the DBE’s own 2015 Discussion Document on Home Education:

[Quotation removed. It stated that a new policy must be based on a good understanding of home education and it must be constitutionally legitimate, acceptable to home educators, practically implementable given limited resources and adaptable in future if necessary.]

Shirley Erwee

Home Education Consultant, Curriculum provider, Home Education Author and Activist

 

References

[1] Discussion Document on Home Education 17/06/2015

[2] Reported by the Pestalozzi Trust, http://pestalozzi.org/web2/en/2016/08/30/and-never-the-twain-shall-meet/, accessed 06/12/2017

[3] Carol Black, A Thousand Rivers, What the Modern World has Forgotten about Children and Learning, http://schoolingtheworld.org/a-thousand-rivers/, accessed 06/12/2017

[4] Discussion Document on Home Education 17/06/2017

[5] Ibid

[6] Shirley Erwee, Homeschooling the Primary Years, Struik Lifestyle, 2015

[7] Dr Brian Ray, What Does the Evidence Say?, Global Home Education Conference, Berlin, November 2012, http://www.ghec2012.org/cms/content/what-does-evidence-say-ray , retrieved 06/12/2017

[8] Discussion Document on Home Education 17/06/2017

[9] Ibid

 

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