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Blog: Education

November 22, 2013

A Step Closer to Basic School Infrastructure for South African Students

Posted by Melissa Shube, JD '15

After soliciting feedback from hundreds of South African students and parents, Equal Education (EE) and Equal Education Law Centre (EELC) have submitted comments on the South African Minister of Basic Education’s second draft of minimum regulations for public school infrastructure. While the submission recognizes that the Minister’s draft represents important progress, EE and EELC raise significant concerns with respect to the draft’s long timeline for implementation. As Moto Singulakka, a Grade 10 learner at Oscar Mpetha High School in the Western Cape, asked, “What about now? Where are the learners going to learn?”

A child stands in a school room in South Africa. The room is bare, with scaffolding exposed and wood paneling falling apart behind him.
Photo courtesy of Equal Education Law Centre

The legacy of Apartheid is still palpable in South Africa’s education system, where many rural and township schools lack basic infrastructure to provide students with a safe environment conducive to learning. Binding norms and standards will help promote equality in education for South Africa’s historically disadvantaged students by requiring all public schools to meet minimum thresholds in relation to physical facilities.

Recognizing that adequate norms and standards are desperately needed, EE has been campaigning for over three years for the development, release, and improvement of these norms. We at the International Human Rights Clinic have for the past year provided legal support to this campaign, which is based on student concerns about a range of infrastructure challenges, including overcrowded and collapsing classrooms, unsanitary toilets that make students sick, inadequate water supply, insufficient electricity, and a painful dearth of science labs, libraries, computer access, and sports fields. Mbali Cezula, a student from iQonce High School in the Eastern Cape, explained that there is a “lack of proper classrooms in my school. There are few buildings [and] some look like township slums. They are not safe as they could fall anytime.”

The regulations for school infrastructure are long overdue. A 2007 amendment to the South African Schools Act of 1996 empowered the Minister to implement binding norms and standards for public school infrastructure. However, such regulations were never released, despite the department’s 2010 proclamation that “[e]quity in the provision of an enabling physical teaching and learning environment is therefore a constitutional right and not just a desirable state.” After a sustained public advocacy effort, EE, assisted by the Legal Resources Centre, filed suit to compel the Minister to act. A year ago, in November 2012, Minister Angie Motshekga agreed to settle the case and to release norms as part of the settlement. Her first set of draft regulations, made available for public comment in January 2013, were “disappointingly vague on substance.”

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April 3, 2013

Build the Future, Fix Our Schools

Posted by Jeanne Segil, JD '14

Our partners in South Africa, Equal Education (EE) and Equal Education Law Centre (EELC), are at a critical point in their ongoing campaign to compel the South African government to establish minimum norms and standards for school infrastructure. The South African Schools Act of 1996 empowered the Minister of Basic Education to set minimum norms and standards for all schools. These regulations were never established and, as a result, many South African schools—particularly those in rural areas and townships—lack basic essentials such as running water, electricity, functioning toilets, libraries, laboratories, computer centers, and perimeter security. Binding norms and standards can help equalize the learning experience in a nation still suffering from the legacy of apartheid.

EE asked Minister Angie Motshekga to issue these regulations for years before eventually filing legal action in March 2012, represented by the Legal Resources Centre, to compel her to act. Last November, Minister Motshekga agreed to a settle the case and, as part of the settlement, to promulgate binding norms and standards. As a first step in this process, in January the Minister published Draft Minimum Norms and Standards for comment from interested parties.

Unfortunately, the draft is disappointingly vague on substance. Any school infrastructure, no matter how problematic, could meet its standards. For example, under the proposed guidelines, it could still be acceptable to have 70 students packed into a single classroom, or to provide three pit latrines and two water taps at a school of 3000 students. Equally troubling, the draft does not establish any timelines for implementation or any mechanisms for reporting or accountability.

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