Convention Against Discrimination in Education; SA-US Commission for Educational Exchanges

Basic Education

12 October 1999
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Meeting report

EDUCATION PORTFOLIO COMMITTEE & SELECT COMMITTEE: JOINT MEETING
13 October 1999
CONVENTION AGAINST DISCRIMINATION IN EDUCATION; SA-US COMMISSION FOR EDUCATIONAL EXCHANGES

Documents distributed:
Convention Against Discrimination in Education and the accompanying Protocol Instituting a Conciliation and Good Offices Commission

Agreement between the Government of the Republic of South Africa and the Government of the United States of America concerning the Establishment of the South African-United States Commission for Educational Exchanges

SUMMARY
The committee adopted the Convention. It was originated by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) in 1960. It focuses on education as a human right and prohibits discrimination in education. It is one of the last international conventions still outstanding to be ratified by the new government. It has been accepted by the Cabinet and requires ratification by the Parliament under Section 231(2) of the Constitution.

The Agreement establishes a South African-United States Commission for Educational Exchanges, commonly known as the J. William Fulbright Commission. The purpose of the Commission is to encourage further mutual understanding between the peoples of the two nations through educational exchanges. The Agreement was signed by the Deputy President Thabo Mbeki and by Vice President Al Gore in 1997. Unlike the Convention, it does not require ratification by the Parliament. It requires approval by the executive under Section 231(3) of the Constitution.

The Committee agreed to include submissions on the Higher Education Amendment Bill when public hearings are held on the National Student Financial Aid Scheme Bill on the 26 October 1999.

Study tours would occur during the constituency break in the first week of November to visit the Eastern Cape and Kwazulu-Natal. An international study tour will be conducted at the end of the year to Australia and New Zealand which have been using outcomes based education.

MINUTES
Additions to the Committee Programme
The following additions to the Committee Programme were accepted:
a) Study tours would occur during the constituency break in the first week of November to visit the Eastern Cape and Kwazulu-Natal, two of the nation's poorest provinces for three purposes: 1) to examine the capacity of these provinces to deal with and respond to the Minister's Call for Action document; 2) to examine the conditions of physical degradation of the schools in these provinces; and 3) to investigate funding norms. These study tours will be undertaken cooperatively by six members of the Committee to each province - three from the ANC and three from opposition parties.

A member of an opposition party expressed concern that the three/three (three ANC members and three opposition members) might not be the universally accepted formula for all study tours. Chairperson Mayatula agreed that the three/three formula would not always be used.

Mr Mseleku, of the Department of Education, suggested that the study tours should also be used to focus on the interventions that would be necessary to implement the Call to Action.

b) An international study tour will be conducted at the end of the year to Australia and New Zealand who have been using outcomes based education to examine this system's successes and failures.

In response to a request from an opposition party member that the Committee consider whether other countries besides Australia and New Zealand might be worth visiting, Chairperson Mayatula requested that any other suggestions should submitted by next Monday.

c) The Committee agreed to include submissions on the Higher Education Amendment Bill when public hearings are held on the National Student Financial Aid Scheme Bill on the 26 October 1999.

Mr Mseleku commented that the Department would recommend holding such hearings to allow key stakeholders to comment on issues raised by the amendments to the Higher Education Bill. He noted that it would not be necessary to advertise the hearings again because the stakeholders would be the same. It would, however, be important to notify the key stakeholders of the additional content of the hearings.

Briefing on the Convention Against Discrimination in Education and the accompanying Protocol Instituting a Conciliation and Good Offices Commission
Deputy Director General of the Department of Education, Thami Mseleku explained that the Convention and the accompanying Protocol have not yet been ratified by South Africa and that the question that needed to be addressed was whether South Africa should ratify them or not. He noted that the committees should especially be aware that Article Nine of the Convention states that "Reservations to this Convention shall not be permitted." This means that South Africa cannot make any changes to the Convention or the Protocol, nor can it ratify either "with reservations." He stated that "You're either all in, or you're all out."

Advocate Boshoff continued the briefing by noting that one important issue is that Article 4 of the Convention requires that primary education be "free and compulsory." He stated that though the government has done well in making primary education compulsory, it has not yet been able to make it free. He also explained that the Convention was adopted by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) in 1960 and is one of the last international conventions still outstanding to be ratified by the new government. Finally, he stated that the Department has consulted widely with other departments of the government and with a variety of experts regarding this Convention, and everyone who has been consulted agrees that the Convention is not in any conflict with any domestic legislation and should be accepted.

Advocate Boshoff then led the committee members through the Convention and the Protocol, highlighting important points:

The Convention
The Preamble emphasises respecting human rights and non-discrimination in education.
Article 1 defines discrimination in a way that is consistent with the Constitution.
Article 2 allows for single sex schools, as long as schools for both sexes are up to the same standards. It also allows for religious-based schools. Both of these provisions are "100% in line" with the Constitution.
Article 4 requires free and compulsory primary education. The Schools Act provides for compulsory education. Free primary education has not yet been required because of financial constraints. The Department is consulting with the Department of Finance and recommends compliance with the Convention on this
issue.
Article 5 refers to the principle that learners should have freedom of choice about
which institution to attend.
Article 9 permits no reservations to the Convention.

The Protocol
The Protocol sets up a Commission to settle disputes between the States Parties to the Convention. The Commission is made up of eleven members, and no more than one national from each State may be on the Commission. The Protocol also establishes a procedure for settlement of disputes by the Commission.

Questions and Answers on Convention and Protocol
Q. A member expressed concern that Article 3 (e) would require that foreign nationals residing within the country be given the same access to education as South African citizens. She noted that especially in medical schools, there are many foreign students, and that while the medical schools claim they are practicing affirmative action and accepting more black students, many of those black students are not South Africans.

A. Advocate Boshoff replied that the article of the Convention applies only to foreigners who are permanent residents of South Africa, and that, according to the decisions of the Constitutional Court, they must be treated in the same way as citizens.

Q. A member noted that the Convention requires equity of conditions for education, while there are many inequities in education, particularly in the rural areas. The member asked what the Department plans to do to address this problem.

A. Advocate Boshoff responded that the Department is working hard to equalise conditions such as buildings and teachers, but that the problem is money. He also stated that he is not really the person who can address such a question.

Q. A member asked how the Department is going to find out if the terms of the Convention are being carried out? For instance, there are still schools in this country that discriminate.

A. Advocate Boshoff responded that the legislation already in place clearly does not allow discrimination, and that the Minister of Education has instructed the provinces not to discriminate. He gave an example in which a school had instituted a policy that students who had missed more than ten days of school in a term could not take examinations. The Minister ruled that this policy was discriminatory because education is a right, and the school was not allowed to implement this policy.

Q. A member asked what this Convention will mean when it comes to funding of education in this country. If a student comes from a country that has not signed the Convention, will that student be eligible in the same way as a South African student?

A. Advocate Boshoff replied that under the Constitution, a student will be treated in the same way, regardless of whether his or her country has signed the Convention.

Q. A member asked whether a school would be allowed to have a policy of admitting a certain number of South African students before admitting foreigners.

A. Advocate Boshoff replied that for most schools, such a policy would not be practical, because of decreasing enrollments. Furthermore, the Department's interpretation of the Constitutional Court's rulings is that schools are not permitted to have a quota system.

Q. A member asked whether there is any legislation or any governmental policy that is in conflict with the Convention.

A. Advocate Boshoff replied that the Department of Education has consulted with the State Law Advisors and the Department of Foreign Affairs, and all agree that there is not.

Adoption of the Convention and the Protocol
Following the briefing and the questions and answers, the committees voted, by general verbal consent, to adopt both the Convention and the Protocol.

Briefing on the Agreement between South Africa and the United States of America concerning the Establishment of the South African-United States Commission for Educational Exchanges.
Advocate Boshoff explained that the crux of the Agreement is to set up a Commission made up of members from both South Africa and the United States to set up and facilitate educational exchanges between South Africa and the United States of both lecturers and scholars. The Commission has been structured as a trust. Both countries will contribute to the funding of bursaries, which means that South Africa will have to raise money for this purpose. The Commission has already been set up and has already had one meeting. Because the Agreement does not require ratification by Parliament, the purpose of the briefing was merely to inform the Committees about the Agreement.

In conclusion Chairperson Mayatula noted that the next meeting of the Portfolio Committee will be on 19 October 1999.

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