Comprehensive Sexuality Education – finally, some clarity!

by Daniela Ellerbeck
20 April 2020

By Daniela Ellerbeck, Legal Advisor to FOR SA
Co-author Adv Nadene Badenhorst, FOR SA Legal Counsel

In 2019, the issue of Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) was one of the hottest topics of the year and FOR SA summarised the position at the end of the year in this article.  We committed to continue calling upon Parliament to, amongst other things, ensure that parental rights are respected, including specifically the right to “opt out” their child/ren from CSE classes.

2020 kicked off with meetings between the Department of Basic Education (the Department) and various stakeholders – including religious leaders as well as teachers’ unions and federations of school governing bodies – where mixed messages were given, resulting in FOR SA writing to the Department to clarify matters. No answer was received from the Department.

Minister of Basic Education answers MPs’ questions

Nevertheless, the CSE issue has not escaped the attention of Parliament, with various Members of Parliament (MPs) writing to the Minister of Basic Education to ask for clarity on certain aspects. One of the most noteworthy of these questions, was by the Honourable Ms Chantel King (DA MP) regarding clarification on the financial sponsorship by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) towards the development and implementation of the CSE Scripted Lesson Plans (SLPs).

The Minister answered that USAID had awarded a contract of $25 million (i.e. approximately half a billion Rand) to the Education Development Center to implement CSE over a five (5) year period. What exactly the Education Development Center’s relationship with the Department is, remains unclear.

Secondly, there was the question by the Honourable Ms Marie Suckers (ACDP MP) regarding whether teachers and/or schools would be compelled to use the Department’s SLPs as the only source from which they teach the CAPS curriculum’s Life Orientation and Life Skills subjects. (These SLPs consist of the Educator Guides for teachers and Learner Workbooks for pupils, which caused an uproar amongst South African parents when the content was bought to their attention.)

In an answer that seems, finally, to bring clarity and put the matter to rest, the Minister responded in writing that the Department’s SLPs are not the only source that teachers and/or schools can use to achieve the mandatory minimum outcomes set by CAPS. She further stated that she has no intention of making the Department’s SLPs mandatory in schools.

In other words, while Sexuality Education remains a component of the Life Orientation and Life Skills subjects (which form part of the mandatory CAPS curriculum), the Department’s SLPs will not be compulsory for teachers to use.  Public schools are therefore free to choose alternative materials from which to teach sexuality education to achieve the outcomes defined in the CAPS curriculum.

FOR SA reiterates that any other position would fall outside of both the Department’s statutory powers and its own policies.  Most notable is the Department’s White Paper, which confirms that parents are the primary educators of their children with the right to be consulted, and to have their children educated according to their values and in what they – as parents – believe to be in the best interests of their children.  Given the extent of the huge public outcry that resulted against CSE in general and the SLPs in particular, the Department is unlikely to change its position in the very near future.

Where does this leave us, and the way forward

The Department’s latest statement affirms and consolidates the position which FOR SA has fought for – that parental rights and teacher rights (as ultimately exercised through School Governing Bodies (SGBs) and teacher unions respectively) will continue to be respected and that the status quo is preserved.

What remains unanswered, is whether or not parents, who remain unwilling for their children to be taught (certain components of) CSE, will be able to remove their child/ren from these classes in the event that their child/ren’s school decides to use the Department’s SLPs.

Given that it is now up to teachers and schools to decide whether they will be utilising the Department’s SLPs or using alternative sources instead, it is critically important for parents to be actively involved in their child(ren)’s school and education. This they can do by for example, becoming involved in the School Governing Body (SGB) and writing to the School Management Team (SMT) to:

  1. Alert them to the fact that the Minister has now made it clear that the SLPs are not mandatory, and that schools and teachers are free to choose the source / material they want to use to teach the Life Orientation and Life Skills subjects;
  2. Formally oppose the use of the SLPs by the teacher and school due to various concerns arising from it – see, for example, this synopsis here; and
  3. Suggesting alternative sources for teachers to use – for suggestions of alternative sources, see CSE Talk’s article here.

FOR SA will continue to lobby and work for the right of parents to – in schools that decide to use the Department’s SLPs nonetheless – remove their child/ren from these classes and to teach their children from an alternative source (if necessary, at home) instead.

Daniela is a duly qualified Attorney of the High Court of South Africa. She obtained a BCom LLB degree from Rhodes University. Daniela first worked for Médecins sans Frontières before completing her articles of clerkship at G van Zyl Attorneys, where she stayed on after being admitted as an attorney and practised, specialising in litigation. Daniela has loved Jesus since she was young and is a member of a local church in Cape Town where she is actively involved.
Nadene is an Advocate, and practised as a member of the Cape Bar for a number of years. She holds both a BA LLB degree from the University of Stellenbosch and a LLM degree in International Human Rights Law (cum laude) from the University of Essex. She currently serves as a Next Generation Board Member on the Advocates Africa Board, representing Southern Africa.

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