By Daniela Ellerbeck, Legal Advisor of Freedom of Religion South Africa (FOR SA)
As we stand at the close of 2019, one of the most important issues to have reared its head this year is that of the Department of Basic Education’s (the Department) proposed introduction of revised content for the Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) component of the Life Skills and Life Orientation curricula.
In this article we will briefly look at where this matter currently stands now that the year has wrapped up.
The Department is trying to confuse the South African public by making false accusations
The Department of Basic Education has made statements to the effect that FOR SA has misled the public and caused confusion by distributing incorrect content. FOR SA openly dismissed such statements as “utter nonsense” and confirmed that the content released on our website were actual photos of the Scripted Lesson Plans (SLPs) (i.e. Educator Guides and Learner Books), provided to Members of Parliament by the Department itself. For more on this aspect see this press release.
The Department has made contradictory statements on the development and piloting of new CSE content
Disinformation and doublespeak from the Department abounds. For example, the Minister answered in the affirmative – to the written question posed to her by Hon. Ms Marchesi MP – that parents would be able to opt their children out of CSE classes. However, the Department’s spokesperson and Head of Communications, Mr Elijah Mhlanga, immediately made a contradictory statement, saying that “there is no opting out” and that “if you want other alternatives you can choose to take your child to a private school or home school, because those two options offer other curricula that is not CAPS.” As a result, and in an attempt to get a clear answer, FOR SA wrote this “Open Letter” to the Minister, to which we are yet to receive any response.
In her answer to the written question by Hon. Dr Boshoff MP, the Minister said that CSE had already been tested in over 1 500 schools in five (5) provinces. However, in an ensuing plenary discussion in Parliament (see at 37 min 20 sec), she said that CSE is still to be tested (“piloted”) in 2020. Thereafter, the Department confirmed that “The pilot has now touched 565,000 learners, 6,300 teachers, 2, 190 school governing body members, and 12,200 parents in the 5 provinces where the test-phase is being carried out.”
The Department also claimed that it has carried out consultation with School Governing Bodies (SGBs) and teacher unions in its National Consultative Forum (NCF) and confirmed that it has provided “support material including the manuals for SGB sensitisation” and that “parent orientation workshops were conducted in schools where the SLPs are being tested”. However, the Federation of School Governing Bodies (FEDSAS) stated that “no consultation on any content” has taken place. It should further be pointed out that “sensitisation” and “parent orientation” is NOT consultation.
The Department has demonstrated a concerning trend of State interference in (and override of) parental rights.
FOR SA has raised concerns – regarding both the process being followed by the Department as well as the infringement on parent’s rights (for more see this article) – with various members of Parliament. The issue has garnered much media attention and is understandably of great concern to South African parents, religious and non-religious alike. For an analysis of the issue from a political perspective see this article.
In 2020, FOR SA will therefore continue to call upon Parliament to:
- Ensure consultation:
- Open up the process to public input, ensuring that the Department has meaningful consultations with all stakeholders before implementing any revised CSE content.
- Ensure the recognition of parental
- Hold the Department accountable to adhering to the law that states that parents are primarily responsible for, and entitled to, educate their children according to their own values and beliefs.
- Require that the Department must respect parents’ rights to decide what is (or is not) appropriate when teaching their children about sex and sexuality;
- Ensure transparency:
- Require the Department to make all content available to parents before these lessons are taught;
- Ensure the right to “opt-out”:
- Require the Department to respect parents’ choice to withdraw their children from CSE classes without sanction.
- Ensure thorough research:
- Given that there is research showing that the implementation of CSE curriculum in public schools results in harm to children, Parliament must ensure that the Department treats the best interests of children as of paramount importance. The Department should therefore be required to fully review the CSE content to ensure that what is included is – beyond doubt – in the best interests of children, as required by the Constitution.
- Demand that the Department review its curriculum should these choices (in this instance the development and implementation of the revised CSE content) be in conflict with the clear wishes of the people of South Africa and/or the rights granted by the Constitution.
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