By Daniela Ellerbeck, FOR SA Legal Advisor
On Friday, 24 January 2020 the Department of Basic Education (DBE) met with school governing body federations and teacher unions (including FEDSAS, NAPTOSA, SAOU, etc.) to discuss ongoing questions and concerns regarding Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) in public schools. This meeting followed the DBE’s meeting with religious and traditional leaders the day before. (For more on the Thursday meeting, see here.)
The Department’s latest statement affirms and consolidates the position which Freedom of Religion South Africa (FOR SA) has fought for – that parental rights and teacher rights (as ultimately exercised through SGBs and teacher unions respectively) will continue to be respected and that the status quo is preserved. What still remains unanswered, is whether or not parents who are nevertheless unwilling for their children to be taught (certain components of) CSE, will be able to remove their child/ren from these classes.
Scripted Lesson Plan to be Voluntary:
At the Friday meeting with SGB federations and teacher unions, the Department reiterated that the curriculum had not changed – i.e. the CAPS curriculum, of which Life Skills and Life Orientation form mandatory subjects, remain in place for all public schools.
However, as the stakeholders pointed out, given that section 6A of the Schools Act only gives the Minister the power to determine the minimum outcomes as set forth in the national curriculum statement, and not the power to dictate the sources teachers and/or schools must use to achieve the minimum outcomes, the Department cannot make the Scripted Lesson Plans (SLPs) mandatory.
Despite contradictory statements the day before (in this regard, see here), the Department agreed.
Thus, while Sexuality Education is a component of the Life Orientation and Life Skills subjects (which form part of the mandatory CAPS curriculum), the SLPs (i.e. the Educator Guides and Learner Workbooks) are one of many sources for the Sexuality Component that a school and/or teacher can choose from. The SLPs will, therefore, be optional and not mandatory, and a school and/or teacher can decide that another source is more appropriate to meet the CAPS curriculum’s outcomes (dictated by the Minister) for Life Orientation and Life Skills.
In other words, the Department’s latest position is that while the curriculum will remain the same, public schools remain free to choose the material they want to use to achieve the stated outcomes.
Given that any other position would fall outside of both the Department’s statutory powers and its own polices (most notably its 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), as well as the huge public outcry that resulted against CSE in general and the SLPs in particular, the Department will probably not change its position very quickly.
Scripted Lesson Plan Opened Up for Public Comment:
During the Friday meeting also, the Department’s Deputy Director-General, Dr Granville Whittle, agreed to open the SLPs (available here on the Department’s website) for comment until Friday, 28 February 2020 and we certainly encourage parents, teachers and other interested persons to do so.
Section 6A of the South African Schools Act reads as follows:
Curriculum and assessment:
(1) The Minister must, by notice in the Government Gazette, determine (a) a national curriculum statement indicating the minimum outcomes or standards; and (b) a national process and procedures for the assessment of learner achievement. (2) The curriculum and the process for the assessment of learner achievement contemplated in subsection (1) must be applicable to public and independent schools.
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