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South Africa

August 8, 2014

All on the Same Grid: Home Education in South Africa to be micromanaged by the State

By: Pestalozzi Trust, South Africa

At the time of the constitutional change in South Africa in 1994, education was in a sad state. Black children were still being taught under the much-criticized system of Bantu Education. The education of these children, who comprised the great majority of children in the country, was also being affected by the slogan “liberation before education” which had developed in the struggle against apartheid. In most schools, very little learning had taken place for the previous 18 years.

In the system of state education for white children, the results were also seriously disappointing. Even among those students who gained university entrance, the actual level of education was unsatisfactory. Of first-year students admitted to the better universities in the late 1980s, about 10% were functionally illiterate, and nearly 20% functionally innumerate.

Over the first four years after the constitutional change, the entire state education system was unified and subjected to the same curriculum. “Curriculum 2005” was informed by outcomes-based education (OBE), a learning method imported from the United States and vigorously enforced with the assistance of American consultants hired with money from American donors. The adoption of OBE was driven by the South African Democratic Teacher Union (SADTU), which had invested most of its political capital in OBE as the panacea for Bantu Education.

Student performance plummeted. The foremost critics of the previous system, including some who had been taught under Bantu Education, started saying publically that the new system was even worse than the old one. Good teachers were confused and disempowered by being told not to teach. Other teachers sat back and did nothing. Large numbers of them did not even come to work regularly.

Homeschooling took off like a rocket.

By 1999, the new education minister tried to reverse the trend by scrambling back towards more old-fashioned methods. He was prevented by the political power of SADTU, and had to content himself with tightening the reigns somewhat in a mildly more traditional National Curriculum Statement (NCS) uniformly enforced on all state schools.

He also introduced, in 1999, the National Policy on the Registration of Learners for Education at Home, requiring homeschoolers to register their children with the provincial education departments. This policy was among a number of policies on various matters found by the Constitutional Court in 2001 to be unenforceable. It was also grossly over-intrusive and controlling, and the great majority of homeschoolers simply refused to comply.

The new curriculum made little headway against the unionized teaching profession. Meanwhile, homeschooling was bursting at the seams. According to the national census of 2011, the number of home learners in the country had grown from a rough estimate of about 50 in 1994 to nearly 57,000. The number of learners in private schools grew almost as rapidly.

Successive education ministers attempted to stem the tide by progressively forcing the private school sector and home educators to comply with the NCS. This simply led to growth in the number of unregistered (and therefore technically illegal) private schools. Among homeschoolers, the noncompliance rate grew to 95% by 2011, while about one-third of all private schools seem to be unregistered.

In 2009, Angie Motshekga was appointed minister of basic education. As the chairwoman of the Women’s League of the governing African National Congress, her political base is independent of SADTU, which allows her greater freedom to bring the unionized teaching profession under control.

This she has done with a vengeance. She immediately had the curriculum revised fundamentally, and issued the National Curriculum and Assessment Policy Statement (CAPS), described as “a single, comprehensive and concise policy document” for grades R–12.

The claim for conciseness does not seem well founded, because the policy is indeed comprehensive. It prescribes every subject to be taught in state and private schools down to the level of topics, prescheduled week by week over 13 years of schooling, and provides for assessment procedures and promotional requirements in great detail. It overloads children in schools and their parents with busywork, soaking up the time and resources they need for the broad and balanced development that the constitutional right to education entails.

The curriculum can best be described as a form of neo-Marxist critical pedagogy, which continually exercises leaners in conflictual thinking, especially in the domains of race, class, and gender. In this respect, the curriculum promotes the governing party’s commitment to the National Democratic Revolution, which has been at the core of its policy for decades.

To monitor the nationwide system for state and private education, an Education Management Information System (EMIS) is being implemented. One element of EMIS is a detailed database of the individual learner records of each student in the country. Its purpose is to “track and trace” every learner’s position and progress in the system week by week, and it provides for the records of 12 million learners. The system goes by the name of “LURITS” (the Learner Unit Record Information and Tracking System), which, naturally, has been turned into a pun, “LURIDS.”

Homeschoolers, as well as a growing number of small, unregistered private schools, have been resisting the imposition of this single national education system for many years, primarily by means of noncompliance. If the situation were to be equated to industrial action, the level of noncompliance by homeschoolers would equate to a 95%-effective strike lasting 15 years.

The government is now firmly resolved to end this dissent. As part of a three-year project to overhaul all national legislation on education, the ministry and departments of education are drafting new policies, laws, and regulations for home education. And in response to a question in parliament, Motshekga expressed the intention to bring home education “in line with the formal system.”

The Pestalozzi Trust legal defense fund for home education recently received confirmation of the long-suspected nature of the proposed restrictions. Homeschoolers are to be compelled to comply with the National Curriculum Statement, including its CAPS component, and every home learner will be required to be registered on the LURITS component of the EMIS system. Compulsory external assessments will be imposed by law and home learners are to be “tracked and traced” in their progress through the system, along with all learners in state and private schools.

Homeschoolers in South Africa being no different from homeschoolers elsewhere, they will not take the intended subjugation lying down. It can be expected that there will be vigorous opposition to the proposed measures, in the form of public debate, submissions to lawmakers, and litigation.

Given the strong resolve by government to bring all education in the country under totalitarian control, however, perhaps the most likely outcome will be another 15-year strike.

 More Information

Learn more by visiting HSLDA’s South Africa page.