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A little part of our Home Education Journey Understanding Development and Learning

By: Marinda Erwee, KZN Home Education NPO, November 2020

Our ‘formal’ Home Education journey began 7,5 years ago, but our youngest two never attended formal schooling, only playschool. We have been very hands on with them since they were young, so I guess, if I am adding those years, then it is longer, I just never realised it at the time. I am (was) an educator by profession, but due to the needs of our family, those ‘boxes’ are so far removed from our approach and philosophy, that it would be extremely difficult to go back to the formal sector.

Our Home Education journey was also born from the need that our children’s needs were not been met in the formal sector. Ironically enough, it was the educational team we were working with at the time that recommended we Home Educate as a short-term intervention. After much deliberation and tears, my husband and I attended the local Home Education EXPO. I was feeling so overwhelmed. The first service provider we saw was a bit enthusiastic and I ended up bursting into tears. What an emotional overload. I was also still very much in ‘school’ mode, which meant I felt I needed something to ‘tick’ those boxes. We spent a lot of money on a curriculum we used for exactly five weeks. By then we were all miserable, and I realised it wouldn’t work trying to duplicate school at home. We had to adapt and find what worked for us, and that is exactly what we did.

Time passed and needless to say, the intervention became a lifelong journey. Our children blossomed. We discovered talents we never knew were there. They became more confident. They gained an interest in learning in the true sense of the word. It is not always plain sailing, there are always going to be challenges in life. The difference is that your family becomes a team in the true sense of the word and TOGETHER you can overcome any hurdle.

Many parents find themselves in that kind of situation currently, where their children are facing difficulties they never knew were there, this is besides the pandemic we are all facing. Often it is difficult for parents to understand the issues their children are facing, as they are given information about a condition, but not what the root causes may be or how to address it.

For us to better understand the heart and mind of a child, we need to understand how they develop and learn. Development is not just a bunch of milestones, like we often think. I would also like to state, that Milestones are not something specific only to babies. They pretty much happen throughout life. Milestones happen each time we transition through different phases in our lives. Baby to toddler, child, tween, teen, adult, mid-life, menopause, old age and a whole lot in between. Every time this process happens, the brain needs to rewire itself to get a clear ‘picture’ of how the body looks at that time and where it is in relation to its environment.

Furthermore, the brain heavily relies on the senses to do its bidding. The brain cannot touch, smell, taste, hear, or know where it is in relation to the body and the environment, without the input from the senses. There are also many more senses involved in the learning process, than just the five we are mostly aware of.

Let us look at Development…

Development is linked to how our brain and body unfolds, firstly on a physical, then emotional and then intellectual level, IN SEQUENCE. To gain perspective, lets look at a common problem children face, like CONCENTRATION.

Concentration goes, firstly to the muscles, then to our emotions and then only to intellect. So, if the muscles are not strong enough. If the emotions are negative or stressful, then the intellectual part of the brain cannot retain information to its potential and hence a child cannot learn- or perform a task to their potential.

We are all wired differently and hence we will all learn differently.

In a Home Environment, we have the ability to take the stress factor out of it. This, however, comes with time. It takes time to find your family’s rhythm and routine. Routine is important, as children thrive when they know what is coming next, but, they still need to be challenged within that space. The more confident they become in their own ability and space, the more keen they become to explore and learn.

My one son was born, facing many difficulties and challenges. I was constantly called into school and I quickly became ‘THAT MOM’.

I realised that the only way to help him was to empower myself with knowledge. We had to take a step back, and work from where he was, and what he was interested in. He was in a constant state of SURVIVAL. I began to actively engage him into the things that were of interest to him. Its always been animals. We read and explored together, Becoming part of nature. He made a magazine about animals. That first year, our focus was healing. We took the time. Because we gave the children TIME, they blossomed. Taking a few steps back, STOPPING, getting in touch with what is more important at times than book learning straight away, was what helped them flourish and progress to their potential in the coming years. STOPPING is a very important concept and an integral part of muscle development. If you cannot stop on a physical or an emotional level, you will never be able to be in full control of your unique you. STOPPING helps us gain perspective. It helps us strategize for a way forward. Remember too, while you are working on the above and maybe worrying about
content that your child may miss: A child will always learn what they need to know, when they need to know it.

To better understand learning, I would like to define it better. The BabyGym and Mind Moves Institute taught me to define learning as: “The ability to ADAPT”. Is that not true throughout life. If we are not able to adapt to situations, then we are not able to move forward to our potential. We stagnate and we then cannot progress.

Learning is also a constant process that repeats over and over again. Input through the senses, processing in the brain, output through the muscles, so in essence, every time you MOVE, or if MUSCLES are involved, learning has happened. Are we not absolutely wonderfully and beautifully made. A flawless design.

In our home, we truly try and make every learning experience fun, hands on and exciting. We try and make everything we learn relevant to life and discover together how knowledge fits into the world around us.

Everything has a purpose and what we learn becomes relevant. Teaching more than one child also leads to asynchronous learning, meaning, that learning is not necessarily graded. Often, many Homeschoolers follow a more ‘TOP DOWN’ approach. A child will remember what they engage in and what is of relevance and interest to them at that time and specific for their age. When facilitating learning to more than one age group in your home, often leads to further exploration of topics and interests, making it hard to ‘grade’.

I’d like to share a few practical ways in which you could implement this kind of learning in your own home.

Keep in mind, that Age appropriate, high intensity (fun) 3d hands on experience where all the senses are involved is the BEST way to learn anything. The brain relies heavily on these experiences to be able to work on a more symbolic level when it is needed.

It’s a delicate balance between concepts you want to teach and using a child led approach to do so. Use what they are interested in to teach the concepts that you see as important. Make the experiences hands on rather than 2D and flat. Using all the senses and muscle groups as much as possible.

Our children are older, but this kind of learning is the most successful and beneficial and works very well in our home. We learnt about the digestive tract and built a model from things in and around our home, let me just say, it was so revolting they will NEVER forget it.

I find that they themselves have often surpassed what was expected and investigated topics in far more detail than they would have if their learning was of a more formal approach. Children naturally have a curiosity to learn.
When you replace 3D experiences with 2D screen time, it is a long term recipe for disaster. Children need to MOVE while they are learning. Movement is what wires the brain. Please keep this in mind if your only alternative is to use an online provider. STILL engage hands on and physically in what they are learning so that they can make that knowledge their own.

Many parents worry about assessments. Personally, I am of the opinion, that PROGRESS is what counts. If you are working from where the child is. Filling in the gaps and making learning relevant, then when the time for more formalised assessments come, they will flourish. Content for tests can be learnt at any time when it is necessary. We keep evidence in different forms of what we do. Video’s, photos, written work, a diary, to name a few. This is a wonderful way to show progression. If you are truly worried, there are other forms of
assessments you could follow to keep a record for yourself. When working with your children you truly know them the best and can often pick up if something is not quite right. Do not be afraid to ask for help. It is good to sometimes get ‘fresh eyes’ and perspective on our children. Especially if they are facing difficulties.

In conclusion. Research and experiment with what works and does not work for your family. You have been given the wonderful privilege of raising people of character. Embrace the journey. As Cory Doctorow said: “If you want to double your success rate, triple your failure rate”. Someone else once said that: “Failures are rehearsals to success”. So, don’t be afraid to try and try again until you find what works for YOUR family. You are not in competition with anyone.

Stay Blessed.

The Policy and law making process in South Africa

This is a simplified explanation to understand and navigate the process of the development of the BELA Bill and the Policy on Home Education that impact our movement.

This guide is taken from the Education and Training Unit’s Toolbox Guide to understanding government: The Policy and law making process.

This is a simplified explanation to understand and navigate the process of the development of the BELA Bill and the Policy on Home Education that impact our movement.

What is in this guide
This guide looks at the processes of making laws and policies in the different spheres of government. Opportunities for the public to participate in these processes are also identified.
Making new laws and policies is usually a very slow process involving a number of stages during which key issues are debated and negotiated before being finalised as official government policy or before being passed as a law. It can take a few years before a proposed law or policy is implemented and before its impact is felt on the ground.


What is the difference between a law and a policy?

It is important to understand the difference between a policy and a law.

A policy outlines what a government ministry hopes to achieve and the methods and principles it will use to achieve them.  It states the goals of the ministry. A policy document is not a law but it will often identify new laws needed to achieve its goals.

Laws set out standards, procedures and principles that must be followed. If a law is not followed, those responsible for breaking them can be prosecuted in court.

So, policy sets out the goals and planned activities of a ministry and department but it may be necessary to pass a law to enable government to put in place the necessary institutional and legal frameworks to achieve their aims. Laws must be guided by current government policy.

Stages of policy and law making

Government and parliamentary structures as well as the different branches of government all play very important roles in the making of laws and policies. Below is an explanation of the stages of making policies and laws, using a specific example of compulsory education.

Stage one – Ruling party conference gives vision, goals and direction

Stage one in the process takes place at the major conferences of the ruling party where policies are made. At these conferences particular issues are debated and discussed and the ruling party decides its overall vision, goals and direction on specific issues.

For example, the ruling party may decide at their national conference that the policy regarding access to education should be that all children under the age of 17 must be in school – compulsory education. It is now the role of the party’s members in the executive and legislative arms of government at national and provincial levels to initiate the processes that will lead to the implementation of this policy.

Stage two – Executive (Ministry) draws up policy on an issue

Stage two of the process takes place at national level where the ruling party attempts to convert its party policy into official government policy or law following the procedures prescribed by the Constitution. It is clear therefore that there is a strong political link between key legislative and executive structures and the majority party.

It is the responsibility of the executive branch of government to develop new policies and laws. It is the responsibility of the legislative branch (Parliament) to approve policies and pass new laws to give legal effect to the policies. But this is a long and slow process during which the policy or law proposed by the ruling party is debated and negotiated with various stakeholders, such as opposition parties, the public, non-government organisations, etc.  This can take many years to complete.

During this time, the government ministries will draft discussion documents, called Green Papers and White Papers on the policy or law to allow for debate and comment. Public service Senior Management Service members are often used as resource people for this process. Various parliamentary and select committees in national Parliament and in the National Council of Provinces, as well as portfolio committees in Provincial Legislatures provide opportunities for public participation in debating the proposed policy or law.

Stakeholders can use different opportunities for input, such as attending parliamentary committee hearings, setting up meetings with department heads or the minister, using the media to put pressure, etc.

Example:

The ruling party has stated its policy of compulsory education for all children under the age of 17. The national Minister of Education now informs his/her department of the need for a policy document to be produced on this issue. The first discussion document to be published will be a Green paper. This will be drawn up by the Ministry and the Education Department with the help of advisors, experts in education, advisory committees, etc. The Green paper identifies the key issues and suggests alternatives. It is then made public and invites comment from all stakeholders and the public.

Stage three – Finalising a policy

Stage three of the process is when the policy is finalised by the relevant Department and Ministry. Once a policy has been properly debated the Department and Ministry look at the issues and options and draw up a final policy which is published as a White Paper. The White Paper is a statement of intent and a detailed policy plan which often forms the basis of legislation. It is debated and adopted by Parliament and approved by Cabinet.

Example

The Education Department looks at all the options and comments from stakeholders and the public regarding the policy of compulsory education for all children under the age of 17 years. For example, there may be input from the Treasury saying that the government cannot afford to provide compulsory education immediately for all children under 17 years, so the policy should be phased in over 5 years. If agreed to by the Portfolio Committee these changes will be included in the revised document which is called a White Paper. Cabinet then has to approve the final policy.

Stage four – Passing a law

A White Paper often forms the basis of legislation. If the Minister or the Department decides that a new law is necessary to achieve its objectives and implement its policy, the Department will begin the job of drafting the new law. In its early stages before a new law has been tabled in Parliament it is called a draft Bill. Once it has been tabled in Parliament it is called a Bill.

Before the draft Bill is tabled in parliament the following takes place:

  1. The draft Bill goes to the relevant Cabinet committee for approval.
  2. Once Cabinet has given its approval it may be released for public comment.
  3. Once comment has been received, the department and ministry will make any changes they think are necessary as a result of public input.
  4. The draft Bill goes to Cabinet to ensure that it has kept to agreed aims and principles and does not contradict any other policies.
  5. The draft Bill is sent to the State legal advisors for legal approval.
  6. The draft Bill is then tabled by the Minister in Parliament.

Once a Bill has been tabled, it will be given a number and then released as a Bill, for example, B6 of 2004 and go through the process of becoming a law. This is a summary of the steps:

  1. The Bill is sent to the National Assembly (NA) who will refer it to the relevant Portfolio Committee.
  2. The Portfolio Committee reviews the Bill and asks for public comment.  When the Portfolio Committee considers the Bill it is regarded as the best time to lobby for changes or to protest the principle of the Bill.  Once the committee has made changes and asked for clarity, they will send a report on their findings to the NA.
  3. The NA considers the Bill and then votes on it with the changes the Portfolio Committee may have made.
  4. The Bill then goes to the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) where the appropriate Select Committee in the NCOP considers the Bill. The Bill goes through a different process depending on whether it contains issues that affect the provinces or not.

Table showing how NCOP works when it receives a Bill

If the Bill contains issues that affect the provinces (s76 Bill)If the Bill contains issues that do not affect the provinces (S 75 Bill)
Members of the Select Committee go to their own provinces to review the Bill.Each Provincial legislature gives a provincial mandate that recommends changes or leaves it as it stands.The NCOP considers the Bill and can either reject or propose changes that are recommended by the Select Committee.Each member of the NCOP votes according to their party.
Provincial representatives report back to the NCOP Select Committee on their provincial decisions.The Select Committee then negotiates a final version of the Bill and sends a report of their decision and any suggested changes to the NCOP.The NCOP considers the report and then votes on the Bill. Each province gets one vote.If the NCOP makes changes to the Bill, it will need to go back to the NA for approval.If the NCOP makes changes to the Bill, it will need to go back to the NA for approval.

Once both houses of Parliament have agreed to a final version of a Bill, it will be sent to the President. The President then signs the Bill and it becomes an Act and law in South Africa.

Stage five – Subordinate legislation and implementing the law and policy

Once National Parliament has passed a law, or a policy has been published, it is up to national and provincial ministries and departments to implement the law and/or policy.

If it is necessary national and provincial legislatures and local authorities can pass subordinate legislation that gives more detail on matters contained in the original law. Examples of subordinated legislation are:

  1. Proclamations issued by the President
  2. Regulations for acts made by ministers
  3. Regulations of local authorities
  4. Provincial proclamations
  5. Municipal by-laws

A provincial legislature can also make its own laws on areas that are defined in the Constitution. These laws will only apply to the province which has made the law.

Local governments can also pass ordinances that have the same legal force as national and provincial parliaments.

Concerning Registration

Written by Fatima Bham from Fitra Home Education South Africa. She is also engaged in the leadership of the Gauteng Legal Home Education Association that falls under our association structure.

“When I first started homeschooling a few years ago I was utterly confused by the law – despite the fact that I am a qualified attorney holding a masters degree in law. After reading pieces of legislation, various websites and forums and talking to people at homeschooling expos, I came to the conclusion that the homeschooling laws in South Africa are unreasonable, very possibly unconstitutional and that the legislation is worded in a way that affords me a loophole – it is okay not to register my child for homeschooling with the government if I am looking out for the best interests of my child. The best interests of the child is always paramount.

I did not want to follow CAPS. I did not want to have to comply with absurd reporting requirements. I did not want my children to be formally assessed. Doing all of these things would defeat the purpose of home educating my children. When my oldest was old enough to be of legal school-going age, I considered signing up with the Pestalozzi Trust, so that should I have any issues with the government, my family and I would be protected (I did belatedly sign up with them and am currently a member).

Fast forward a few years and Covid19 hit. Homeschooling was suddenly in vogue and scores of parents were looking for information. Wanting to help meet this need (and wanting to showcase all the glorious methods of homeschooling other than boxed curricula) I decided to conduct online workshops on “Homeschooling: The Basics”. In this workshop I wanted to include information on the legalities of homeschooling in South Africa. I therefore approached the legislation and policies with fresh vigour. I also delved into the case law, but what I discovered shocked me.

Reading the SA Schools Act in its entirety, it is crystal clear to me that there is no legal choice to make when it comes to registering your child or not registering your child. The option is to send your child to school or to register your child for homeschooling. When it comes to the best interest of your child, the courts have stated emphatically that they will only consider this issue if you are registered in terms of the law.

There is no loophole. There is a choice though.

You either choose to comply with the law OR if you think the laws are unjust, you go to court and you make that case. We live in an open and democratic society where we have processes which allow us to challenge unjust laws. If you disobey the law, claiming they are unjust but you don’t take legal action to rectify this, then you are simply disobeying the law.

This puts me in a conundrum. I don’t like our laws. I don’t think that the requirements reflect an understanding of homeschooling. As I dug deeper though, I realised a few other things:

1. I don’t understand what the legal requirements actually are. Sure I’ve read them but when speaking to a teacher, she made the requirements sound much easier than I had imagined – a “portfolio” is 4 documents per child, an “assessment” can be a video of my child mastering a skill (like telling time). Perhaps an “attendance register” can simply be a line that says my child has perfect attendance?

2. Many other countries regulate homeschooling in an even stricter manner than South Africa. The vagueness of our laws can actually work to our advantage if we learn how to work within the system. Homeschoolers, even unschoolers, in other countries have learned how to comply with laws and regulations in a way that still allows them to educate their children the way they want to. (This article brought to my attention by Shaista Musa was eye-opening: UnschoolingMom2Mom)

3. While our homeschooling laws appear unreasonable to me, I cannot say with certainty that they would be regarded as unconstitutional or unlawful in substance by a court of law. Balanced with our rights as parents to choose how to educate our children (something enshrined in the UN Declaration on Human Rights) is our government’s obligation to ensure that all children in this country have access to basic education (something enshrined in the South African Constitution). Any court considering the current laws and policy would have to consider both and the balancing act may not come out in our favour.

So what are my options as a homeschooler? I can go underground and simply choose to homeschool illegally. I can go to court to challenge the current laws (but this route doesn’t guarantee success and will be extremely expensive). Or I can engage with the government. I can either attempt to convince the government to change the current laws and if that is unsuccessful, I can attempt to sway the interpretation of the current laws as much in my favour as I can. Engagement, to me, makes the most sense.

I don’t want to be illegal and I don’t want to live in fear of a notice/order to send my child to school/jail time. The option of going to court to challenge the laws will still exist if engagement does not work. Right now our government has opened the doors to engagement. I attended a meeting on Monday 17 September 2020 with the DBE where many positive things were said. I don’t know if it will all be lived up to, but I see this as the most sensible route to take at the moment. In order to engage constructively, a group of eclectic homeschoolers ( myself, Atiyya Gardee, Razina Mayet, Carimah Fattar, Shaista Musa, ‘Aqeelah Ishmail, Zarina Chotia, Farzana Moolla, Sadiyah Mossam, and Nadiya Carrim) have formalised our existing group into an association called Fitra Home Education South Africa. Along with the intention to engage with government and other stakeholders, our members do many things – create homeschooling awareness, providing homeschooling support, support outreach projects, create our own eclectic unit study curricula. I am also part of the Gauteng Association for Legal Home Education – set up by Alma Lubbe Moodley with other homeschooling parents (and attorneys) who have taken their own journeys to discover what the law actually is and who are agreed on the best course of action. Those who are interested in joining us are welcome to meet up with us on these groups.”

Representative structure for Associations in South Africa

What is a national association? “National associations are formed to fill a gap that might be identified as a collective voice. National policies are not developed or influenced by a single organisation, hence the need for the formation of national associations. The coordination of the sector helps prohibit the government from being able to divide and rule”. 3 Cephas Zinhumwe, Secretary-General of the National Association of NGOs in Zimbabwe 

National associations are membership networks whose raison d’être is to represent the collective interests of their members. A national association for homeschooling will play a critical part in bringing our movement together. The South African National Home Schooling Association (SANHSA) would exist to strengthen the associations in the rest of the country; create an enabling environment for civil society engagement; convene the movement as a whole; serve the needs of the associations that form part of it, and be a representative structure on a national level. 

As representatives of the civil society community at a national level, SAHNSA would serve as a vehicle for a constructive and coordinated voice for the homeschooling movement. A national association is well placed to play the role of interlocutor between the government and our homeschooling movement, and are in a position of strength to influence public policy. A national association would generally play a lead role in addressing issues that have a reverberating impact on our movement as a whole. In issues that are more specific to a sub-sector of our movement (e.g. special needs and rural homeschooling), the national association would play more of a facilitating role by providing a forum for members with similar interests to collaborate, and by supporting member initiatives.

Why do we need to set up a national association? We need to transform the fragmented and weakened nature of our movement; hold our government to account; overcome restrictions on the freedoms of our movement; maximise resources and create a forum where our diverse organisations can meet; exchange knowledge and experience and jointly devise solutions to challenges plaguing our movement. 

The goal behind the establishment of SANHSA is to encourage and advance the participation of every home educator in South Africa and to open up spaces for civil society engagement for our movement. 

SANHSA will consist of representatives from each provincial association. The executive and Chairperson, that will run SANHSA, will be elected from the executives of each province which will serve as a mouthpiece for all associations represented and effectively every home educator in South Africa. It will be registered as an NPO(Non-Profit Organization) as soon as the executive has been elected and the constitution has been written. Each province would also need to formalise its structure by registering as an NPO to lend credibility, transparency, and accountability to the movement. 

The Eastern Cape Home Schooling Association(ECHSA) has initiated the formation of SANHSA and the ECHSA executive will serve as an interim executive until an executive has been elected. ECHSA will also serve to help set up provincial associations in provinces that do not have associations and serve to co-ordinate with established associations in the country to form part of the national structure. 

Individuals may also join SANHSA as it will act as a vessel to pool individuals that come from provinces that do not have associations as yet. SANHSA will take the opportunity to instruct and equip individuals to form their own associations. If an individual is part of an association that is part of SANHSA, the individual is automatically part of SANHSA. 

(Source: Resource guide for National Associations: How to establish a National Association. Published by the CIVICUS Affinity Group of National Associations. https://www.civicus.org/index.php/es/centro-de-medios/recursos/manuales/602-agna-resource-guide-for-national-associations )