DBE intends to create a “gender-sensitive” environment for all learners
The Department of Basic Education again found itself in turbulent waters when a series of questions in Parliament addressed to the Minister revealed that the Department has a “toolkit” to train teachers to “create a gender-responsive environment for the holistic development of learners.” The Gender Responsive Pedagogy for Early Childhood Education (“ECE toolkit”) – which is aimed at early childhood development (ECD) (ages 0 – 7 years) – provides guidance on the learning environment, materials, activities and language to be used in the classroom. According to the DBE, it is intended to address “discrimination, School-related Gender-based Violence (SRGBV) and bullying on the basis of gender.”
The uncovering of the ECE Toolkit is in addition to the earlier revelation that a working group within the DBE has produced a draft of the Guidelines for the Socio-educational Inclusion of Diverse Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity, Expression and Sex Characteristics (SOGIESC Guidelines). The DBE has expressed its intention to roll these out in all public schools and they will apply to grades R through 12. According to the DBE, these materials have been developed to “create an enabling environment for United Nations, African Union, ESA and Southern African Development Community Member States to carry out diversity and inclusion work in education and training.” To assist in the achievement of this objective, the DBE has received millions of rands of external and international funding.
FOR SA identifies multiple potential infringements on constitutional rights
Having scrutinised these materials carefully, FOR SA is concerned that they have the potential to infringe upon a number of constitutional rights. Our primary concern is to protect the best interest of the child, which our Constitution says is of paramount importance. There is also the right of parents (according to international law South Africa has ratified and the Department’s own Education White Paper 1) to raise their own children with their own values. This should not be overridden by the State, which is expressly forbidden from imposing any ideological framework or content into the public education system.
Both the ECE Toolkit and the SOGIESC Guidelines are clearly based on the ideology that gender and biological sex are divorced from one another. For example, this posits that simply having the physical characteristics or biological make-up of a boy or a girl does not necessarily mean that you, in fact, are one. Instead of a male/female binary, gender is seen as a spectrum. The materials produced by the DBE assume that this transgender ideology is an accepted scientific and factual norm, whereas in fact it is highly contested and deeply controversial within the medical community.
When such concepts are taught to children as young as five years old, there is clearly potential to cause them serious confusion and even harm, especially when this contradicts the views and values which they may be taught by their own parents. As we have seen in other international educational contexts where similar materials have been implemented, there are also concerns around privacy rights caused by shared bathrooms and changing rooms. Girls’ sports have been equally controversial, where biological men who may identify as women have a clear physical and unfair advantage. “Forced speech” around “preferred pronouns” is also an issue because many people do not believe that your gender is fluid or based upon your personal choice or opinion.
DBE promises full public participation process in early 2023
Several parental groups and political parties have already expressed concern that these teacher manuals/guidelines are intended to ensure that all children will be educated in an environment where ideologically liberal values will become the accepted norm. Their concern is that their children may be strongly influenced to conform to and confirm acceptance and adherence to these values.
FOR SA has consistently engaged with the DBE on this matter to express our concerns and we will continue to do so. We are happy to say that they have promised that there will be a full public participation process to allow for comment and input on the SOGIESC Guidelines in early 2023. We will also be pressing for clarification on a proper public participation process on the ECE Toolkit.
In the interim, FOR SA recommends that people do not overreact – no matter how concerned they may be – because at present there is no process opened for whatever comments they may want to make to be properly considered. FOR SA will be closely monitoring this matter and will be sure to inform our constituency as soon as these Guidelines are opened for comment in the New Year.