The fight for real education
Yoliswa Dwane explains what the new norms and standards will mean for SA schools
On November 16, Equal Education reached an out-of-court settlement with Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga, in which the minister agreed to adopt national minimum norms and standards for school infrastructure.
This marks a high point in Equal Education’s two-year campaign for basic infrastructure standards for schools.
The court case, in which Equal Education was represented by the Legal Resources Centre, which was set to be heard just four days after the settlement was reached, would likely have been one of the most important and far-reaching cases involving the constitutional right to a basic education.
However, the significance of the minister’s commitment to publish norms and standards for school infrastructure for public comment by January 15 2013 and to adopt these as law by May 15 2013 is immense. It saves time and money, and will give content to what the right to a basic education means.
Once the norms and standards are adopted, the department of basic education will also have to make provision for water, electricity, adequate classrooms, toilets and sanitation, fencing, libraries, laboratories, computer centres and sports facilities for poor schools.
This can be achieved through a rational implementation plan with targets and time frames by which certain levels of functionality must be reached by certain dates.
This implementation plan will be a way of making sure these regulations make a real difference in the lives of children in villages and townships.
Currently, out of the 24 793 public schools in South Africa, 3 544 schools have no electricity, 2 402 have no water supply, 46% still use pit latrine toilets, 95% have no science laboratories and 93% have no libraries. These figures reflect the dire inequality that lies at the heart of our education system and society.
Indeed educational inequality may be the most enduring legacy of apartheid.
It is an injustice that cannot be placed solely at our government’s feet, nor left to it alone to solve.
As part of Equal Education’s court papers, expert evidence, and affidavits from 24 principals, teachers and parents, describe the impact of inadequate school infrastructure. It is something I know from having been schooled in an Eastern Cape township.
Principals and teachers spoke of overcrowding in classrooms, inadequate and unhygienic toilets, and the impact on learners’ health.
They spoke about the indignity of having to use toilets without doors, learners having to relieve themselves in fields and girls staying away from school when they are menstruating because of the poor sanitary conditions.
A parent from Mabu-a-tlou Primary described the problem of overcrowding and inadequate classrooms, and said “overcrowding is compounded by a limited amount of furniture and there are too many learners for each teacher, and students are forced to resort to relying on the help of fellow students to assist if they fail to grasp the lesson properly”.
Bogosi Primary was described as follows: “The buildings are dangerous and very old. When it rains, or when there are strong winds, teachers send the students home because they are scared the structure will collapse on learners.”
Having norms and standards will not result in our infrastructure backlog being addressed overnight, nor will it plunge our country into financial crisis.
Norms and standards will establish what basic physical infrastructure and services all schools should have, and compel provincial education departments to plan to meet compliance in the shortest possible time, and to report on their progress in doing so.
This forms the basis of a national plan to resource our schools, starting with the basics, creating an environment conducive to teaching, a foundation from which other pressing problems like teacher subject-content knowledge and accountability can be addressed.
This promises to change the face of schooling and bring benefit to millions of children.
Equal Education is committed to ensuring that the norms and standards are adopted, and that they translate into schools being built and repaired.
We will continue to mobilise communities around the right to a quality education and, if necessary, defend this in court.
» Dwane is the chairperson of Equal Education