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NGO threatens to take state to court over lax standards

Equal Education has threatened legal action against the department of basic education for not signing norms and standards regulations that would establish a legally-binding benchmark for school infrastructure.

Doron Isaacs, the coordinator of the Cape Town-based NGO, said on Wednesday that Equal Education would like to avoid going to court. “Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga is meeting with the Council of Education Ministers [comprising the national and provincial ministers] over the next two days, which gives her the perfect opportunity to sign the document.”

For more than a year, Equal Education has been campaigning for the adoption of regulations that specify the physical infrastructure standards all schools must meet in order to function properly.

About 100 learners from schools across the Cape Peninsula spent two nights camping outside Parliament in an attempt to pressure the minister of basic education to adopt norms and standards for all government schools in the country. Watch the slideshow.

In July, Equal Education invited learners from schools across the Cape Peninsula to spend two nights camping outside Parliament in an attempt to pressure the minister to compel all government schools in the country to meet these standards.

Isaacs said there was a widespread backlog to school infrastructure. “While the mud schools in the Eastern Cape are a good example of the problem: most [public] schools in South Africa don’t have school halls, libraries, science laboratories or functional computer labs.”

He said: “There is no document where anyone can go look at what exactly what is necessary in a school. There is no standard that will ensure we deal with it.”

In February, shortly after Equal Education and high school pupils picketed outside outside Parliament to draw attention to the education crisis in the Eastern Cape, Motshekga invoked section 100 of the Constitution, which allowed for direct intervention by the national government, or the provincial department enters into a memorandum of understanding with the national department.

Parliament amended the South African Schools Act in 2007 introducing section 5A, which gives the minister the power to adopt these regulations.

In June 2010 the department of basic education adopted a policy, called the National Policy for an Equitable Provision of an Enabling School Physical Teaching and Learning Environment, wherein the department committed to promulgating these regulations by March 31.

The department indicated in its 2009/2010 annual report that these norms and standards regulations had been developed in 2010 already. No reasonable explanation has been given for the delay of implementing these regulations.

A report released by the department in May 2011 revealed that of South Africa’s 24 703 public schools:

  • Over 3 500 schools still do not have any access to electricity and a further 800 schools have an unreliable electricity supply;
  • More than 2 400 schools still do not have access to any water and a further 2  600 have an unreliable water supply;
  • More than 900 schools do not have any ablution facilities while a further 11 000 still have to use pit latrine toilets;
  • Only 7% of schools have stocked and functioning libraries
  • Only 5% of schools have stocked and functioning laboratories; and
  • Only 10% of schools have stocked and functioning computer centres.

Isaacs said they did not expect overnight results once the regulations are implemented. “All we want her to say is ‘this is my plan, these are my time frames, these are the standards to which all schools will be raised and if we don’t achieve it by these dates, we understand there would be consequences’.”

Currently, each of the nine provinces has its own budgets and plans to upgrade infrastructure, while the national department only offers advice. Isaacs said with the regulations in place, it would be legally binding for the provinces to ensure the infrastructure is implemented.

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Amanda Strydom
Amanda Strydom is the Mail & Guardian online's night editor. With a background in science and journalism, she has a black belt third dan in ballet and, according to a statistical analysis of the past three years, reads 2.73 books every week. She never finishes her tea, although she won't say no to a cupcake. But only just this once.

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