8 November 2017
Dear Adv. Rudman
Draft Basic Education Laws Amendment Bill:
Objection to section 25 (6) on home education after grade 9
As a service provider for an online study programme that high school students and adults use to prepare for an international grade 12 equivalency test, namely the GED®, I would like to submit comments and objections specifically to section 25 (6) of the Basic Education Laws Amendment Bill (hereafter referred to as “the Bill” or “the BELA Bill”)
In this section the Bill seeks to regulate and restrict home education for children who have completed grade 9 (i.e. the Further Education phase leading up to a school-leaving qualification). The relevant clause of the Bill is found in section 25(6), and states:
“A parent of a learner who wishes to continue with home education after the learner has completed grade 9, must make use of the services of a private or independent service provider, accredited by Umalusi, established in terms of section 4 of the General and Further Education and Training Quality Assurance Act, 2001 (Act No. 58 of 2001), to register for the Senior Certificate Examination through an independent or private assessment body.”
2.1 Vague intention and potential misinterpretation
This clause, as it stands is ambiguous and potentially open to more than one interpretation. This leaves one questioning the intention behind it. It seems to imply that children who are home educated for grades 10 to 12 must pursue the National Senior Certificate (NSC) and must make use of the services of an Umalusi-accredited service provider. The implication is that international grade 12 alternatives are not an option.
This potential restriction is of great concern to a large number of home educating families in South Africa who have chosen or intend to use international school-leaving qualifications like the GED® as their children’s school leaving qualification.
I believe that this paragraph violates the rights of learners and should be removed in its entirety from the Bill.
2.2 The child’s best interests and parents prior right
Section 28 of the South African Constitution (hereafter referred to as “the Constitution”) deals with children’s rights. Of importance is section 28 (2), which states:
(2) A child’s best interests are of paramount importance in every matter concerning the child.
Article 26 (3) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which South Africa has ratified, states:
“Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.”
At face value, section 25 (6) of the BELA Bill appears to violate the right of parents to choose the form of education that may be in their children’s best interests as it seems to limit the options to only one, namely, the National Senior Certificate.
Since many parents believe it is in their children’s best interests to earn school leaving credentials which are internationally recognised and widely accepted in other countries, limiting their options seems to violate their right to choose what they believe to be in their children’s best interests.
In addition to the Constitution, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), makes clear statements about a child’s best interests concerning education:
Article 28 1. States Parties recognize the right of the child to education, and with a view to achieving this right progressively and on the basis of equal opportunity, they shall, in particular: (a) Make primary education compulsory and available free to all; (b) Encourage the development of different forms of secondary education, including general and vocational education, make them available and accessible to every child, and take appropriate measures such as the introduction of free education and offering financial assistance in case of need; (c) Make higher education accessible to all on the basis of capacity by every appropriate means; (d) Make educational and vocational information and guidance available and accessible to all children; (e) Take measures to encourage regular attendance at schools and the reduction of drop-out rates.
Article 28 3. States Parties shall promote and encourage international cooperation in matters relating to education, in particular with a view to contributing to the elimination of ignorance and illiteracy throughout the world and facilitating access to scientific and technical knowledge and modern teaching methods. In this regard, particular account shall be taken of the needs of developing countries.
Article 29 1. States Parties agree that the education of the child shall be directed to: (a) The development of the child’s personality, talents and mental and physical abilities to their fullest potential;
In other words, the aims of education must be directed toward the development of each child’s personality and full potential, preparing children to participate in society and to do work that is rewarding and reasonably remunerative, and to continue learning throughout life.
2.3 The limits of the role of the state
Article 5 of the UNCRC declares: States Parties shall respect the responsibilities, rights and duties of parents or, where applicable, the members of the extended family or community as provided for by local custom, legal guardians or other persons legally responsible for the child, to provide, in a manner consistent with the evolving capacities of the child, appropriate direction and guidance in the exercise by the child of the rights recognized in the present Convention.
Parents are the primary educators of children and the state should only step in to provide education or any other social services for children when the parents fail to do so.
The Bill demonstrates the state exceeding the limits of its authority and responsibility and potentially usurping the role of responsible parents.
In Section 28 the Constitution confirms that children have the right to education, and imposes the responsibility of ensuring that children’s rights are realized, on parents. It also places the responsibility for the child’s right to shelter, basic health care and nutrition upon parents.
Parents are responsible for basic health care and they may choose private health care or use state health care services if they choose. Parents are also primarily responsible for providing adequate shelter and nutrition and the state may only be called upon to ensure that these rights of children are realised, when parents are unable to fulfill these obligations.
Following the same logic, parents have the right to choose to use private educational services, and as such, the right to choose which educational services to use, if they do.
Since the state does not restrict other parental responsibilities to only one option, it is unconstitutional for the state to wish to prescribe and limit the educational choices of parents for their children. It goes against the ethos of the Constitution to unreasonably limit educational choices, or to prevent access to international educational options — options which increase a person’s educational and professional freedom, as well as his/her freedom of movement locally and internationally.
It also seems very contrary to the spirit of the Constitution to prevent children and their parents from accessing, at their own cost, educational systems and services which they believe to be preferable and beneficial for their own needs and their children’s best interests.
2.4 Freedom of choice and access to information and academic freedom
According to the Constitution, Section 16 (1) Everyone has the right to freedom of expression, which includes— (a) freedom of the press and other media; (b) freedom to receive or impart information or ideas; (c) freedom of artistic creativity; and (d) academic freedom and freedom of scientific research.
The Constitution of South Africa protects the freedom of individuals with respect to belief and opinion, freedom of movement, professional choice and access to information etc.
Any proposed law that would limit any of the above choices, must be found to be just and reasonable, and there seems to be no just reason to limit an individual’s choice of grade 12 qualification to only the option of the National Senior Certificate.
Requiring families who choose home education for grades 10 to 12 to use only the National Senior Certificate as their school leaving qualification is a violation of the right to access other information and ideas and academic freedom.
3. The GED® – a foreign grade 12 alternative
Since the GED is not a credential that is familiar to many educational officials in South Africa, let us now look at what it is and the benefits it offers in the South African educational context:
“The GED® test is a U.S. high school (12th grade) equivalency test that is delivered in more than 60 countries around the world. Students who pass the GED® test receive a credential equal to a U.S. High School Diploma. Since it was first offered in 1942, more than 20 million adults have taken the GED® test to earn their diploma.”[i]
The following descriptions are quoted from the website of the GED Testing Service in the USA:
“About GED Testing Service
GED Testing Service offers the only learner-centric program that is recognized and portable from state to state. The program is based on the expectations and standards for college- and career-readiness and will lead to better outcomes in education.
The new organization was formed in 2011 and was modeled to represent a public-private partnership. It builds on its past experience in adult and continuing education by harnessing the considerable resources of Pearson, the world’s largest education and testing company, with the nearly 70-year history of ACE to expand access to the GED® test, ensure its quality and integrity, and adapt the GED® test to the skills needed in the 21st century.
The GED® program has always been a cornerstone of adult education since it first began in 1942. As the creator of the test, GED Testing Service has a responsibility to ensure that the program continues to be a reliable and valuable pathway to a better life for the millions of adults without a high school diploma.
ACE is the nation’s [United States] most visible and influential higher education association. We represent the presidents of U.S. accredited, degree-granting institutions, which include two- and four-year colleges, private and public universities, and nonprofit and for-profit entities. Our strength lies in our loyal and diverse base of more than 1 800 member institutions, 75 percent of which have been with ACE for over 10 years. That loyalty stands as a testament to the value derived from membership. We convene representatives from all sectors to collectively tackle the toughest higher education challenges, with a focus on improving access and preparing every student to succeed.” [ii]
3.1 Benefits of the GED® for South Africans
3.1.1 A grade 12 solution for the unemployable, economically disadvantaged
In the South African educational context, the GED® is a solution for many learners outside of the mainstream school system, such as home educated learners and young adults who are disadvantage and unemployable as they lack a matric or equivalent.
In South Africa under 25s without matric are reported to struggle the most to find work: according to Statistics SA’s Quarterly Labour Force Survey [iii] , 1 June 2017, officially 6.2-million people were unemployed in South Africa.
58% of unemployed people are aged between 15 and 34 and the unemployment rate was 33.1% among people who had less than a matric.
Equally concerning is the high rate of school dropouts – “The Department of Basic Education’s figures, show that 1,100,877 learners enrolled for Grade 10 in 2014, but only 610,178 enrolled for Grade 12 in 2016 – showing an alarming rate of 44.6% of learners either dropping out of the system altogether or remaining stuck in Grade 10 and 11.” [iv]
The GED® test as a foreign grade 12 alternative, helps solve this educational and economic need by giving many of them a second chance. It opens the way for high school-aged home schoolers and young adult learners to college and university courses, apprenticeships and job training—the pathway adults need to gain skills and knowledge, to find jobs, and to care for their families.
3.1.2 Recognised by SAQA
On request the South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA) will issue a candidate with a GED® credential a Certificate of Evaluation which states that the closest comparable qualification in South Africa is the National Senior Certificate (matric) or an NQF Level 4 qualification.
3.1.3 Recognised by USAF
GED® graduates who meet the gazetted criteria may apply for a letter of foreign conditional exemption from Universities South Africa (USAf) so that they are eligible to apply to South African universities. GED® students have already been accepted at universities and private tertiary institutions in South Africa in the last few years.
3.1.4 Opens doors to further study
The GED® opens many doors of future opportunity for students who previously would have been unemployable and it gives the opportunity to gain access to tertiary education and is an important stepping stone on their pathway to professional success.
3.1.5 Recognised internationally
GED® high school equivalency credentials are also widely recognized by universities and colleges in other countries around the world. This means that it facilitates, rather than restricts freedom of movement of individuals.
3.1.6 Tests can be written around the world
The GED® tests are written at over 3000 test centres in over 160 countries around the world. This means that if a family immigrates, a learner’s education will not be compromised as s/he can continue preparing for the GED® and simply write the test in the new country of residence. This facilitates the right to freedom of movement which is protected by the South African Constitution. (reference)
3.1.7 Content and skills are geared for the 21st Century
The GED® Testing Service is constantly developing its offering to ensure its quality and integrity, assessment methods to adapt the GED® test to the skills needed in the 21st century. This means that students are equipped with skills for the workplace milieu of the Information Age.
There is a wide range of outstanding resource materials, including text books and online study courses available to students to ensure mastery of the skills required to succeed on the GED® tests. These resources equip students with the technical skills, critical thinking abilities, and global perspectives that are essential for success in today’s world.
3.1.8 Study is self-paced
Since there are no set exam dates and the course is self-paced, students can book and write their GED® tests at accredited Pearson VUE test centres, whenever they are ready. This gives students the advantage of progressing at their own pace, after mastery of the content and skills they are studying. They can also book to write the tests at their own convenience when they feel confident and ready. Since there is no pressure due to restrictive deadlines for completing the tests, candidates can more easily succeed at earning their GED® credential.
3.1.9 Realises the true aim of education as intended by UNCRC
The GED® is an invaluable tool that puts educational advancement and economic upliftment within the reach of many who are disadvantaged by the traditional school system, in South Africa and around the world and enables the intention of Article 29.1 of the UNCRC to be realized, namely education that is “directed toward the development of each child’s personality and full potential, preparing children to participate in society and to do work that is rewarding and reasonably remunerative, and to continue learning throughout life.”
Statistics show that finding employment without a matric or grade 12 equivalent is near impossible in South Africa and the GED® is an out-of-school solution that helps alleviate this problem.
3.2 Evaluation of the GED® in the light of the “child’s best interest”
For many of the reasons stated above, it is evident that the GED® is a grade 12 equivalent option that is in the best interests of many, who choose home education.
The GED® is a stepping stone that opens the doors of opportunity for further study as well as for professional advancement and success in the workplace of the 21st century.
The GED® is a choice that enables students to be educated in a way that develops “the child’s personality, talents and mental and physical abilities to their fullest potential” (Article 29.1 of the UNCRC)”
The GED® is a choice that facilitates freedom of movement between countries without compromising a learner’s education by necessitating a change of school systems.
Since parents have the prior right to choose the form of education in the best interest of the child, since the role of the state is to respect the rights of parents and since the everyone has the right to freedom of access to information and academic freedom, it is evident that the Bill’s requirement, for home educated children to use only the National Senior Certificate for their school-leaving qualification, is a violation of numerous sections of the Constitution.
International alternatives, such as the GED®, which families may choose to be in the best interests of their children should be options that parents have the right to choose, in pursuit of their Constitutional duty to guide, direct and ensure the education of their children.
Section 25 (6) of the BELA Bill that seems to restrict home educators to make use of Umalusi-accredited service providers to register for the Senior Certificate is unlikely to stand up to scrutiny in the light of the Constitution and other applicable international laws and it should therefore be abolished in its entirety.
Thank you for your time and consideration of this matter
Director of Online GED South Africa
[i] https://www.gedtestingservice.com/testers/testinternational, accessed 7 November 2017
[ii] https://www.gedtestingservice.com/educators/about-ged-testing-service-educator, accessed 6 November 2017