BELA Bill passes despite falling short on dropout prevention.

The Zero Dropout Campaign notes the National Council of Province (NCOP) passing the Basic Education Law Amendment (BELA) Bill this morning.

Last Thursday, the NCOP made a hurried attempt to pass this Bill, and in the process almost violated its own procedural requirements. “This piece of legislation will have a profound impact on the education sector, and we remain concerned that the Bill’s processing through Parliament was not afforded the necessary time to make the most informed decision possible,” said Zero Dropout Campaign Programme Director Merle Mansfield.

“The Bill’s provisions to address and reduce the dropout crisis in South Africa, Clauses 2 and 3, remain problematic and insufficient, respectively,” continued Mansfield.

Clause 2 will amend section 3(1) of the South African Schools Act to make school attendance compulsory from Grade R at age six and no longer only from Grade 1, and increase the penalty provision in section 3(6) from six to 12 months. However, numerous factors such as a lack of finances, transport, state bureaucracy, and even threats of violence prevent learners in South Africa from attending school, and implementing criminal penalties for non-attendance without addressing other education-related challenges would have limited impact on learners enrolling in or completing school. Further, criminalising parents already struggling to ensure their children’s education will surely undermine their ability to provide and perpetuate cycles of poverty and disengagement.

Clause 3 places new obligations on educators, principals, and school governing bodies to track absenteeism as a mechanism to prevent dropout. It however does not take into consideration relevant research about the factors driving learner disengagement and dropout. It also presumes that existing datasets on learner attendance and school dropout rates are accurate and complete.

To rectify this, the Zero Dropout Campaign made the following recommendations during the National Assembly’s public participation phase:
• Dropout prevention must be tracked against specific KPIs for provincial departments and the Minister of Basic Education.
• Data monitoring for dropout prevention should be institutionalised in the DBE through defining and tracking a set of indicators, inclusive of but not limited to, learner attendance.
• These KPIs should be reflected in the government’s Medium-Term Strategic Framework (MTSF) to ensure comprehensive adherence and accountability.
• Intergovernmental committees at provincial and national levels to monitor and respond to learner dropout trends and ensure accountability.
• Substantial considerations for psychosocial support at school level, particularly as a fundamental resource in quintile 1-3 public schools.
• Early Warning Systems (EWS) to mitigate learner disengagement and dropout.
• Data administration posts, relevant training and infrastructure for data collection.
These comprehensive recommendations were however overlooked.

“We are also concerned that the BELA Bill’s passing has happened without consideration of some new pivotal policy changes within the DBE since the BELA process began seven years ago such as the controversial General Education Certificate (GEC), which is poised to shift how the DBE addresses issues such as learner retention and dropout,” added Mansfield.

“We will continue to monitor its progress through the Presidency and advocate for robust policies and programmes to supplement the Bill if it becomes law to ensure a reduction of our national dropout rate,” concluded Mansfield.