Blog: Right to Education

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November 27, 2012

Important Victory for the Right to Education in South Africa

Posted by Susan Farbstein

In the not-so-distant past, denial of basic education to non-white citizens was a pillar of South Africa’s apartheid state.  The goal of “Bantu education” was to isolate and subjugate the black population, prevent the spread of “subversive” ideas, and prepare black students to provide labor for a white-run economy and society.  Recognizing that this system had to be eradicated if South Africa was to truly transform itself, the right to education was enshrined in the country’s new constitution during the transition to majority rule.  Basic education for all South Africans would be an immediately realizable right, essential to overcome decades of legalized discrimination and to ensure meaningful participation in a democratic society.

But absent clear standards and specific guidance about what a quality education means, the country has struggled to provide such education to most of its citizens.

Chairs are scattered and turned over everywhere in a school in South Africa.
A school in the Eastern Cape of South Africa. Photo courtesy of Equal Education

According to the Department of Basic Education, as of 2011, of the 24,793 public schools in South Africa: 14% have no electricity; 10% have no water supply; 46% use pit-latrine toilets; 90% have no computer centers; 93% have no libraries; and 95% have no science laboratories.  We’re learning about these challenges through our partnership with Equal Education Law Centre (EELC), a law clinic set up to address what it describes as the ailing education system in South Africa.  Part of the problem is that while the South African Schools Act of 1996 empowered the Minister of Basic Education to set minimum norms and standards for all schools, such norms and standards were never established.

But last week, our partner in South Africa made measurable progress.  EELC and its sister organization, Equal Education (EE), along with the Legal Resources Centre (LRC), secured a major victory on the path to education reform in South Africa.  In an out-of-court settlement, the Minister of Basic Education agreed to promulgate binding minimum norms and standards for infrastructure of the country’s public schools.

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