The freedom of home education is currently being threatened by proposed changes to the SA Schools Act (BELA Bill) and a new policy on home education published in 2018. In order to address these threats, it is important that the homeschooling movement must engage with government and the media through associations. It is thanks to the work of associations that provision was made for home education is the SA Schools Act of 1996.
Government generally engages with the public through representative organizations, such as associations. Only when proposed policy or law is published for public comment does government consider inputs from individuals. An association is an organization where members of a specific interest group elect an executive committee during an annual general meeting. This committee can then engage with government or the media to represent its members.
When home education was still very small in 1994, the Association for Homeschooling was established. Thanks to the activities of this association and the support of the Homeschool Legal Defence Association (HSLDA) in the USA, provision was made for home education in the SA Schools Act of 1996. This led to the exponential growth of the movement to about 100 000 home learners in 2017.
Since the 1990’s more homeschool associations were established in the Eastern Cape and the Western Cape. These associations engaged regularly with government and the media, but also organized many events and support activities. In 2012 there were signs that government started planning new policy, and in response to this, the Gauteng Homeschool Association was established. Currently there are also associations in the provinces of Limpopo, Mpumalanga, Northern Cape, North West, Kwazulu Natal and Free State.
At the beginning of 2014, the Western Cape Education Department (WCED), under the leadership of MEC Donald Grant, released a draft policy for home education that proposed draconian measures to restrict the freedom of homeschooling parents. The Cape Home Educators together with the Pestalozzi Trust launched a campaign against this policy and within two weeks the WCED withdrew this policy.
During 2014 and 2015 the Department of Basic Education had meetings with stakeholders in home education as part of its public participation process for drafting a new policy on home education. All the homeschool associations were requested to send representatives. Although the public participation was flawed, it was essential that the associations attended these meetings and witnessed the flawed consultation process. Without having witnessed this process, the home education movement would not have a leg to stand on when they claim that they were not consulted and the media would also not be interested in the story.
The home education movement emphasizes the need for extensive consultation due to the diverse and distributed nature of the movement. If government actually takes cognizance of this, parliament might decide to have public hearings all over the country, as they did for the Expropriation Without Compensation constitutional amendment proposal. If this is the case, there might be as much as 3 public hearings in each province. Without provincial associations, there will be many public hearings without submissions on home education, due to the limited capacity of national organizations.
If the media reports on the various hearings, they will prefer to talk to the provincial associations, rather than national organizations. The absence of provincial association will severely limit the ability of the homeschooling movement to influence public opinion through the media during such public hearings.
Once national policy and legislation has been promulgated, provinces might decide to promulgate provincial regulations on home education. It is essential that provincial associations are actively involved in the public participation process of these regulations.
It is not necessary to have many members in order to establish an association. Ten members electing three executive committee members could be enough. Neither is it necessary that people must attend a physical meeting in order to establish an association, or that the association must charge membership fees.
The following is required to establish an association:
Although provincial associations are required, it is also important having associations for special interest groups focused around various aspects such as special needs, divorced parents, single mothers, religion, educational approaches, alumni, etc.
Although it is not important to have many members in order to establish an association, it is still important to have a large membership. Submissions from organizations with a large membership will carry more weight that organizations with a small membership. Once established, it is therefore important that associations should work on increasing their membership. The SAHomeschoolers.Org website supports the growth of associations by publishing their details.
The Pestalozzi Trust is not a representative organization, because its leadership is not elected by its members during an annual general meeting. The Pestalozzi Trust is governed by a self-perpetuating board of trustees that governs the trust according to the trust agreement that was created when the trust was established. For this reason, the Pestalozzi Trust cannot represent any constituency. However, since the core business of the Trust is to protect the rights of homeschooling parents, the Trust engages with government in order to promote a safe regulatory environment for homeschooling parents and provides government with the necessary information to take informed decision on home education.
Many homeschooling parents find it intimidating to engage with media and government officials to represent their constituency. It is for this reason that the Pestalozzi Trust has established the ambassador programme to coach and support homeschool leaders to interact with media and government. Once an association was established, its leadership can join the ambassador programme and take the responsibility to represent their constituency in public if and as they are ready.
The freedom of home education will be determined by the public opinion on home education, and homeschool associations are important means to influence public opinion through engaging government and the media. Parents are encouraged to join homeschool association, and if none exist in your area, establish one.
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