by Michael Swain
13 October 2021
The Department of Basic Education (DBE) is in the news again, pushing forward with the roll-out of its Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE) programme.  This material was developed in close collaboration with UNESCO, providing public schools with Scripted Lesson Plans (SLPs), developed in accordance with the revised UN International Technical Guidance on Sexuality Education (ITGSE). It is noteworthy that one of the main contributors to the ITGSE was the International Planned Parenthood Federation (IPPF), the notorious abortion provider involved in a massive scandal for selling aborted baby parts and organs.

The DBE claims that there is an urgent need to implement this programme, citing teenage pregnancies, HIV infections and gender-based violence.  DBE spokesperson Elijah Mhlanga states that parents are “failing dismally” when it comes to talking to their children about sex and that is “why we need to step up as government,”.  This roll out is in keeping with the purpose of an international grant received from USAID, which awarded a contract of $25 million (i.e. approximately R375 million Rand) to the Education Development Centre to implement CSE over a five (5) year period. (The link between the DBE and the Education Development Centre is unclear.)

FOR SA sounded the alarm in 2019, sharing examples of content taken directly from the SLPs which the DBE had presented to Parliament.  Parents and teacher bodies expressed concern about the lack of consultation and engagement as well as the testing of this content in over 1,500 schools with a view to a wide-ranging roll out.  Since 1994, South Africa no longer has State schools where Government chooses and implements whatever it wishes to educate school learners.  Instead, we have public schools, which are essentially a partnership between Government and the local school community in the form of a School Governing Body (SGB) which represents the parents of learners at the school, the teachers at the school and some representation from more senior students. 

One example of how this partnership works is seen in the distinction between the CAPS curriculum (where the DBE sets the educational outcomes it wishes every learner to achieve) and the content which is taught within the school to achieve it.  Importantly, this recognises the rights of parents in terms of the DBE’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. Since it is impossible for the topic of sex and sexuality to be taught from a value-neutral perspective – and what children are taught about sex will have a life-long impact on their own views and values – it is of particular importance that parents’ views are respected.

The DBE has stated that, while they have (and are strongly encouraging the use of) the SLPs which they have developed, these are not the only source that teachers and/or schools can use to achieve the mandatory minimum educational outcomes set by CAPS. Although CSE remains a component of the Life Orientation and Life Skills subjects (which form part of the mandatory CAPS curriculum), the DBE’s SLPs will therefore not be compulsory for teachers to use. As a result, public schools remain free to choose alternative materials which achieve the outcomes defined in the CAPS curriculum. This position was confirmed by the DBE’s Director-General: Care and Support, Mr. G Whittle, as recently as 25 May 2021 when (in a letter to the National Consultative Forum) he stated that “the usage of SLPs is not compulsory and does not prevent the educators’ prerogative in developing their own lesson plans, provided that these lesson plans meet all the curriculum requirements”.   

Given the extent of the huge public outcry that resulted against CSE in general and the SLPs in particular, the DBE is unlikely to change its position in the very near future.

Where does this leave us and what is the way forward?

Given that it is now up to teachers and schools to decide whether they will be utilising the DBE’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 their SGB and writing to the School Management Team (SMT) to:

  1. Alert them to the fact that the Minister has 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; and
  3. Suggest alternative sources of CSE content for teachers to use – for suggestions, contact Cause for Justice ([email protected]).

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

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Michael Swain

Michael Swain has been a successful businessman and also spent over 30 years in Christian ministry. He serves as FOR SA’s Executive Director and its (primary) media spokesperson. See full bio here.

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