South Africa proposes major language change for schools

Government plans to give itself more power around language policies at schools in South Africa – including the main language of instruction.

The additional powers are included in the Basic Education Laws Amendment (BELA) Bill, which is currently being considered in parliament, and grants the final authority for admission and language policies to provincial heads of department. Currently, school governing bodies have this authority.

It also mandates provincial heads of department to consider the needs of the broader community in considering language policies, and authorises the heads of department to order mergers of schools.

The opposition Democratic Alliance has heavily criticised the proposed provisions, calling it a ‘coup’ against school governing bodies.

“The bill, which was submitted to Parliament in December last year, is set to carry out a coup against the parents and children of South Africa by usurping the powers of school governing bodies to determine the admissions and language policies of schools in their communities, and by enhancing the powers of ANC cadres to merge and to rename merged schools,” said the DA’s Baxolile Nodada.

“By robbing governing bodies of these powers, the Department of Basic Education plans to centralise control over public schools not in the hands of the communities and parents who know what is best for their children, but in the hands of ANC cadres like Gauteng Education MEC Panyaza Lesufi.”

Specific concerns highlighted by the DA include:

  • Section 4 of the Bill empowers officials and MECs to amend the admissions policies of any of the 24,000 public schools in the country;
  • Section 5 of the Bill gives MECs the power to change the language policy of any of the thousands of public schools in the country and to direct any public school to change its language(s) of instruction;
  • Section 13 of the Bill gives officials and MECs the power to merge and name any merged public school in South Africa.

Although the bill lays out a number of procedural steps to be followed in each of these cases, it explicitly stipulates that the final authority vests not in the school community, but in heads of departments and members of the executive council, the DA said.

“In cases where governing bodies or communities are unhappy with changes to their school policies, they only have the right to appeal to the same MEC who leads the very department forcing these changes upon them. In other words, MECs like Lesufi will become both player and referee.”

Read: 8 changes planned for schools in South Africa

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