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Bela Bill: South Africans Face Jail if Children Not in School

South Africa’s parliament has passed a major education bill that could see parents face prison if their children are not in school.

Under the Basic Education Laws Amendment (Bela), they could be jailed for up to 12 months if their children are truant, or if they are not enrolled when they reach school age.

Bela also introduces a ban on corporal punishment in all schools.

It is the biggest education overhaul since the end of apartheid in 1994.

The governing party, the African National Congress (ANC), says the bill will “transform our education system, to address historical and present challenges”.

However, the biggest opposition party, the Democratic Alliance (DA), has condemned it, saying it gives the state too much control over schools and will lead to the collapse of education.

The DA says the bill “disempowers schools, parents, and communities and fails to address a single one of the systemic challenges that impede quality education”.

It led a protest during the vote and has threatened to take the government to the Constitutional Court if it becomes law.

The ANC has a huge majority in parliament and the bill was backed by 223 MPs, with just 83 against, on Thursday.

Education expert Mary Metcalf told SABC News she agreed that there should be consequences for parents who do not send their children to school.

Prof Metcalf said this was the “basic bare minimum” of being a parent.

Another point of contention in the Bela bill is that schools will be required to submit their language policy to the government.

They must ensure it meets the needs of the broader community – if they do not, they will have to change it.

Many feel this is an attack on Afrikaans communities.

But the ANC says language policies have been exploited and used “as a proxy for racial exclusion” by schools, which the party wants to change.

During the years of white-minority rule, students were forced to learn in Afrikaans, which was seen as the language of the apartheid government. This led to massive protests by students – the 1976 Soweto Uprising.

Experts say that South Africa’s education system is in crisis.

In 2021, it ranked last out of 57 countries assessed in the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study, which tested the reading ability of 400,000 students around the world.

Earlier this year a study found that eight out of 10 South African school children struggled to read by the age of 10.

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