There is thought amongst homeschoolers that those who subscribe to and stand up for the legal definition of homeschooling, are elitists and that we hate cottage schoolers. That we want to throw them under the bus so we can feel safer, and we don’t want to welcome them into the homeschooling family. But this is far from the truth.
Firstly, I would like to explain the role of an association. An association is a representative body made up of a homogenous group, that voluntarily band together, to effect change in their chosen sphere of influence. For ECHSA, our sphere is the representation of home educators, in the Eastern Cape, that adhere to the legal definition of homeschooling according to the South African Schools Act. We endeavour to protect their rights as per the SA constitution and the SA Schools Act.
Let me tell you, being an executive of a voluntary association is not the easiest thing in the world. Firstly, as stated in the criteria to register a voluntary association, the executive does not receive any remuneration to run the association. So, all the blood, sweat and loads of time behind the computer, researching, and planning is unpaid labour. Secondly, you have to know what you are talking about. One cannot claim to represent a very specific group of people and not know what is going on in the legislation that affects that specific group, not only on provincial but also national level. Because we are a volunteer-based association, constitutionally, we have much more legal validity to effect change than an organization that has members that pay them for services rendered, like an insurance company that insures one against calamity. If one wants to be an effective representative body, one also has to decide who to include in the scope of representation, and who not to include, as it takes a lot of time and effort to do so.
So the question of why cottage schools and homeschoolers can’t “mix” and voluntarily band together will soon be made very clear.
The reason why cottage or micro-schools have mushroomed is that the educational mess in SA is the bane of every South African. The stark reality is that the educational system has failed us all. Some are in the position to homeschool their children and others are not. Some families concurrently home- and cottage- and mainstream school. So this means that parents are using a mish-mash of all sorts to get their kids an education, hold onto their jobs and carve out a future despite the challenges.
For this we all have understanding. But, in spite of that, we are still citizens under the law and need to abide by it. We, however, don’t need to accept everything and become bootlickers that say yes and amen to everything the government requires. There are avenues, built into our Constitution, by which we can stand against injustice. Registering an association, and demanding representation and justice for the group you represent, is one of those avenues.
In its current form, the SA Schools Act is pretty cut-and-dried concerning cottage schooling and homeschooling. Homeschooling, per definition, is the act of a parent or guardian taking responsibility for the education of their child or charge, and administering that education themselves in the child’s home (Chapter 5 point 51 SASA). Tutoring for some subjects is permitted, but the Policy on Home Education, promulgated in 2018, precludes tutors from replacing parents as primary providers of the education. In 1996, the Home Schooling Legal Defence Association of America had a hand in ensuring that homeschooling was written into the Schools Act to protect the rights of homeschoolers, with the legal definition thereof in place. Any other form of education whereby a child leaves their home to receive education from a person who is not their parent or guardian is classified as a school. This falls within chapter 5 point 45 – 50 of the Schools Act (SASA.)
It is a pity that cottage schoolers did not get better advice from the homeschoolers that they asked for help. We were never supposed to be lumped together under the banner ‘alternative schooling’ as we are in different parts of the SASA. What we should have been, are neighbours or each other’s cheerleaders saying “Wow, look at what you have achieved, well done!!” Instead we, as HOMEschoolers, are now needing to draw the boundary line. You know the old saying, ‘Good fences make good neighbours’.
It is a misconception to think that any Constitution-conscious attorney will fight for the legalization of cottage schooling in its current form… Unregistered cottage schools are illegal in most, if not all, countries in the world and it is a criminal offence that incurs jail time in South Africa. But, the newly formed Cottage School Association can fight for their rights on how they are monitored, policies are drawn up, etc. This is what ECHSA endeavours to do in the Eastern Cape for home educators. We as homeschoolers have enough on our plate to deal with in defending our rights at the moment.
As some may know, ECHSA had obtained a legal opinion from an attorney in a bid to strike down the newly promulgated policy on home education. So, we understand the impact of not having a clear delineation between homeschooling and cottage schooling. Our previous chairperson was an advocate herself and it was because of her that we started on that journey. In essence, we have a solid understanding of the law. Cottage schoolers and Homeschoolers cannot be one happy family, as our interests are not the same. We are petitioning the government for different things, with different arguments. But this TRUTH is very difficult for people to understand as it is not the popular view punted by others. Thus, we are getting ‘conflicting’ advice concerning the legalities.
In conclusion, cottage schooling and HOMEschooling are not competing, because competing would imply that there is not enough space or scope for both in a space in which both can belong. It is not a case of the one who shoves the hardest will win. In truth, there is no space for cottage schooling in our part of the schools act and the only shoving that is happening is that we want an uncompromised chance to fight for what is already ours, whereas their fight is much more complicated and they are likely to have to make far more sacrifices. No doubt, cottage schoolers are scared of that reality. In my opinion, cottage schools should have been advised to approach their bid to carve out their space in the SASA, from the school side and not from the homeschool side; they might have been much further in their bid to validate their existence.