By Monica Brown

Greetings to all.

Yes ,today we are starting a two part series on Gender Equality and Education from a South African Perspective. Our first part is looking at the different policies that is governing basic education as a whole and gender equality as a specific issue that needs attention globally.We also tapping into why some of these policies and guidelines are not effective and possible hurdles in implementing them.

Girls and boys see gender inequality in their homes and communities every day. They see it in their in textbooks, in the media and among the adults who care for them.

Parents may assume unequal responsibility for household work, with mothers bearing the brunt of caregiving and chores. The majority of low-skilled and underpaid community health workers who attend to children are also women, with limited opportunity for professional growth.

The same scenario is being seen in the classroom.So what happens in the classroom ultimately doesn’t stay in the classroom. Impeding students’ learning based on their identities inevitably worsens existing disparities in other aspects of life.

The girl who’s discouraged in math class may never become a leading engineer and create more opportunities for women to enter that field. A Black student facing unfairly harsher discipline at school may be likelier to face unequal punishment as an adult. And an immigrant student mocked for their English skills may be less likely to seek help if they survive assault given a troubling lack of supported services tailored for non-English languages.

What policies are governing education as a whole in South Africa?

Education in South Africa is governed by the following key policies and legislation:

  • The fundamental policy framework of the Ministry of Basic Education is stated in the Ministry’s first White Paper on Education and Training in a Democratic South Africa: First Steps to Develop a New System, published in February 1995.
  • The National Education Policy Act (Nepa), 1996 (Act 27 of 1996) brought into law the policies, and legislative and monitoring responsibilities of the Minister of Education, as well as the formal relations between national and provincial authorities. It laid the foundation for the establishment of the Council of Education Ministers (CEM), as well as the Heads of Education Departments Committee (Hedcom), as intergovernmental forums that would collaborate in the development of a new education system. Nepa of 1996, therefore, provided for the formulation of national policy in general, and Further Education and Training (FET) policies for curriculum, assessment, language and quality assurance.
  • The South African Schools Act (Sasa), 1996 (Act 84 of 1996) is aimed at ensuring that all learners have access to quality education without discrimination, and makes schooling compulsory for children aged seven to 15. It provides for two types of schools namely independent and public schools. The provision in the Act for democratic school governance, through school-governing bodies (SGBs), has been implemented in public schools countrywide. The school-funding norms, outlined in Sasa of 1996, prioritise redress and target poverty regarding the allocation of funds for the public-schooling system.
  • The Adult Basic Education and Training (Abet) Act, 2000 (Act 52 of 2000) regulates Abet; provides for the establishment, governance and funding of public adult learning centres; provides for the registration of private adult learning centres; and provides for quality assurance and quality promotion in Abet.
  • Sasa of 1996 was amended by the Education Laws Amendment Act, 2005 (Act 24 of 2005), which authorises the declaration of schools in poverty-stricken areas as “no-fee schools”, and by the Education Laws Amendment Act, 2007 (Act 31 of 2007), which provides for the functions and responsibilities of school principals.
  • The Employment of Educators Act, 1998 (Act 76 of 1998) regulates the professional, moral and ethical responsibilities of educators, as well as teachers’ competency requirements. The Act and the South African Council for Educators (SACE) regulate the teaching corps.
  • The design of the National Qualifications Framework (NQF) was refined with the publication of the Higher Education Qualifications Framework in the Government Gazette in October 2007, to provide 10 NQF levels.
  • The NCS grades R to 12 replaced the policy document, A Résumé of Industrial Programmes in Schools, Report 550 (89/03).
  • The Education White Paper on ECD (2000) provides for the expansion and full participation of five-year-olds in pre-school Grade R education by 2010, and an improvement in the quality of programmes, curricula and teacher development for birth to four-year-olds and six- to nine-year-olds.
  • The Education White Paper 6 on Inclusive Education (2001) describes the DBE’s intention to implement inclusive education at all levels in the system by 2020. The system will facilitate the inclusion of vulnerable learners and reduce the barriers to learning through targeted support structures and mechanisms that will improve the retention of learners in the education system, particularly learners who are prone to dropping out.
  • The Education Laws Amendment Act, 2002 (Act 50 of 2002) set the age of admission to Grade 1 as the year in which the child turns seven. However, the school-going age of Grade 1 was changed to age five, if children turned six on or before 30 June in their Grade 1 year.
  • The Umalusi Council sets and monitors standards for general and FET in South Africa, in accordance with the NQF Act, 2008 (Act 67 of 2008), and the General and FET Quality Assurance Act, 2001 (Act 58 of 2001).

What policies/guidelines/ statutory bodies had been brought into play to ensure that gender equality becomes a reality in education, specifically in the Department of Basic Education?

  1. The Constitution of South Africa serves as a compass for engendering gender equality in the country. Several policies have been enacted to facilitate gender equality and equity in education. These policies have led to gender parity in enrolment and increased participation of both boys and girls in school.

2. The Employment of Educators Act, 1998 (Act 76 of 1998) regulates the professional, moral and ethical responsibilities of educators, as well as teachers’ competency requirements. The Act and the South African Council for Educators (SACE) regulate the teaching corps.

3. The South African Schools Act (Sasa), 1996 (Act 84 of 1996) is aimed at ensuring that all learners have access to quality education without discrimination

4. Often, policies to deal with gender issues in education have been formulated based on what is perceived to be a prevalent gender issue at the time.

4.1. The Measures for the Prevention and Management of Learner Pregnancy Guidelines (2007) seeks to eradicate the expulsion of and unfair discrimination against girls who fall pregnant while in school. It also allows girls to return to school no later than 24 months after giving birth. 

The DBE acknowledges its central role in the social sector’s collective response to this challenge. This document sets out in the DBE’s Policy on the Prevention and Management of Learner Pregnancy in Schools (hereafter referred to as this Policy), its goals, guiding principles and themes to reduce and manage the incidence of learner pregnancy and its adverse impact on the affected learners and, more broadly, on the basic education system. This Policy provides guidance on the reduction of unintended pregnancies, management of their pre- and post-natal consequences, limitation of associated stigma and discrimination against affected learners and, importantly, the retention and re-enrolment of affected learners in school. Furthermore, this Policy is informed by an agenda to eliminate gender disparities in education.

4.2. Guidelines for the Prevention and Management of Sexual Violence and Harassment in Public Schools (2008), which aims to deal with the pervading gender violence in schools by enhancing both teacher and student knowledge of, and capacity to deal with, gender-based violence in schools. 

The reporting of sexual abuse and harassment perpetrated against learners, educators and school staff has to be managed effectively and efficiently by the Department of Basic Education (DBE). The sexual abuse and harassment of learners, specifically, contravenes international instruments that prohibit the use of cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment towards children (Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 19481 , the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights of 19662 , the Convention on the Rights of the Child of 19893 , the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights of 19864 and the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child of 19905 ). Sexual abuse and harassment breaches learner’s fundamental rights to protection from all forms of abuse and respect for their human dignity as stipulated in section 28 of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa (1996)6 . Notwithstanding the efforts of the South African government and the progress made in creating a legislative framework, acts of sexual abuse and harassment in schools continues to affect learners, educators and school staff. It is a well-known fact that these offences have dire consequences for victims and their families. 
  • 4.3. The Education White Paper 6 on Inclusive Education (2001) describes the DBE’s intention to implement inclusive education at all levels in the system .The system will facilitate the inclusion of vulnerable learners and reduce the barriers to learning through targeted support structures and mechanisms that will improve the retention of learners in the education system, particularly learners who are prone to dropping out.

5. Policies – Access to Schools

5.1. National Education Policy Act No. 27 Of 1996 – Admission Policy For Ordinary Public Schools -01 October 1998

5.2. ASIDI Disbursement, Professional and Management Fee Policy and Procedure-July 2015

5.3. Draft Policy on Rural Education-09 February 2018

5.4. Improving access to free and quality basic education to all-14 June 2003

5.5.National Policy on an Equitable Provision of an Enabling School Physical Teaching and Learning Environment-11 June 2010

5.6. Policy Document on Adult Basic Education and Training-12 December 2003

5.7.Policy on Learner Attendance04 May 2010

5.8. Regulations relating to minimum uniform norms and standards for public school infrastructure-29 November 2013

5.9. Rights and Responsibilities of Parents, Learners and Public Schools: Public School Policy Guide 2005-01 September 2006

6. DIRECTORATE: SOCIAL COHESION & EQUITY IN EDUCATION was brought into existence and is still functioning.The first Interprovincial Meeting for Social Cohesion and Equity in Education for Provincial Coordinators for 2022, took place at the KARA Heritage Institute in Pretoria from 19 to 20 July 2022. 

Dr Granville Whittle, Deputy Director-General for Educational Enrichment Services, addressed Task Team members saying, “As the Branch leads the Department on the transformational agenda of the basic education sector, a more coordinated, agile and flexible approach towards collaboration will be required to realise its vision. In the attainment of Priority Six of the Medium Term Strategic Framework (MTSF) 2019-2024 on Social Cohesion and Nation Building, the planning and alignment of activities should be uniformly facilitated at national, provincial and district levels to better impact schools. In addition, Gender-Based Violence is one of the key drivers of social degeneration, which needs to be addressed through social cohesion and nation building efforts”.

Along with the National Schools Moot Court Programme as the main contribution for the Branch, the following issues were highlighted by Dr Patricia Watson, Chief Director for Social Inclusion and Partnerships in Education: “Given the increase of violence and bullying in schools, the Interprovincial Task Team for Social Cohesion and Equity needs to partner with the School Safety Directorate for a more concerted effort in addressing the scourge. The values we seek to promote amongst learners are not limited to literacy on constitutional values; we need to promote and inculcate personalised values of good citizenry and the establishment of social compacts for the greater good. We need to collaborate so that we can identify inter-sectionalities for pooling resources. An opportunity has already been opened for Social Cohesion to find expression in the former Global Fund Adolescent Girls and Young Women Programme (AGYW), now the Adolescent and Youth Programme (AYP). Two new areas of focus for Social Cohesion and Youth Development, which will need to find expression in provincial plans, include the promotion of youth leadership and agency and education for sustainable development and climate change. In addition, the menstrual health programme remains an important gender-focused area”.

The coordination of Care and Support for Teaching and Learning (CSTL) has migrated to the Directorate: Social Cohesion and Equity. The key purpose of the Care and Support Branch is to mobilise all sectors of society and develop innovative social programming to support quality basic education. This is achieved by using schools as vehicles for promoting learners’ access to a range of public services such as health, poverty alleviation, child protection, social cohesion, sport, arts and culture for the holistic development and wellbeing of learners.

7. Commission for Gender Equality (CGE)

Established in terms of Section 187 of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa in order to promote respect for gender equality and the protection, development and attainment of gender equality.The CGE shall advance promote and protect gender equality in South Africa through undertaking research, public education, policy development, legislative initiatives, effective monitoring and litigation.

8. Life orientation was brought in as a compulsory subject .Life Orientation is one of the four fundamental subjects required for the National Senior Certificate, which means that it is compulsory for all learners in Grades 10, 11 and 12.

What is life skills education in South Africa?

Life skills are taught from grade R to Grade 9.This study area includes social health, emotional health, and relationships with other people and our environment, including values and attitudes. The study area Personal and Social Well-being will help learners to make informed, morally responsible and accountable decisions about their health and the environment.

The Educator Guide and the Learner Book that are used as Learner and Teacher Support Material (LTSM) have been framed to cover the following Life Skills and LO key themes including:

  • Relationships;
  • Values, Rights, Culture and Sexuality;
  • Understanding Gender;
  • Violence and Staying Safe;
  • Skills for health and Wellbeing;
  • The Human Body and Development;
  • Sexuality and Sexual Behaviour; and
  • Sexual and Reproductive Health

School is compulsory from the beginning of the year in which the learner turns seven until the end of Grade 9 or of the year in which the learner turns 15 (whichever comes first). This stage is called General Education and Training, and it falls into three phases: The Foundation Phase (Grade R to 3). The Intermediate Phase (Grades 4 to 6). The Senior Phase (Grades 7 to 9). FOUNDATION PHASE This phase focuses on literacy, numeracy and life skills. In Grade 3, learners start to learn an additional language.

Final thoughts about Part 1

Truly when we look at all the policies/guidelines and interventions that the education sector came up with in South Africa, we can truly say that they are trying to bring about change.Surely in a few years time we will probably bear fruit from all this.

At the same time we need to take into account that the most important police officers or enforcers in relation to all this is the educators. Educators are the enforcers of all these laws and regulations and if they do not have an understanding of these interventions, it becomes nothing. It will stay words on a piece of paper.

On the other hand it is very strange that these policy directions are referred to as guidelines. Maybe that can perhaps account for the problems currently encountered in implementing them. Simply referring to them as guidelines denotes a lack of authority and does not compel their enforcement. Educators nor school management will see the importance of these policy directions in place.

Honestly speaking looking at all the different guidelines and policies that is addressing individual gender issues, it can be viewed as exclusive and not interlinking with each other.All of these policies and guidelines are dealing with different issues and will subsequently be viewed as such.

Most of the policies or guidelines are not making reference to factors like race, social class, sexual orientation, geographical location or accessibility to resources.Some of the factors mentioned determines an individual’s experience in terms of their gender.There are surely inequalities , especially when you look at girls in particular.Culture and race affect how girls view themselves and how they are viewed by their teachers and boys. A lot of suicides amongst girls arises from being mocked about their appearance, being bullied and made fun of.

We need to recognise that a black middle-class girl child in Cape Town experiencing gender issues is likely to be different to that of a black girl child in the deep rural area of Kwazulu-Natal or Northern Cape.

Likewise, a white middle-class girl child’s experience of gender issues is likely to be different from that of a middle-class Indian, Coloured or Black girl child.

Schools must provide a supportive, non-discriminatory environment for all students, including gender diverse and transgender children.Unfortunately it is easier said then done.

We need to stay mindful that pushing forward any policy for implementation, we need to take into account the mindsets and attitudes of the implementers.A lot of educators are either perpetrators or victims or survivors of GBV in their personal relations or marriages.Enforcing or implementing something that you are experiencing or had experienced is very hard, believe me.

We will have to look at a meaningful and collaborative partnership between schools, communities, civil society and the business sector as bringing change will need resources.

Part 2 of this topic will look at recommendations or possible solutions are available and we will look at some reports and case studies around the globe.

Please if you can add more value to this topic, do not hesitate to comment and share what your experiences are and what your thoughts are on this matter.

Monica Brown, Changemaker, Activist And Social Entrepreneur

Article Reproduced with Permission from Monica Brown

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We hope you enjoyed the article, there will be more regular weekly articles from Monica Brown coming soon.