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Durban - Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga released the minimum norms and standards for school infrastructure on Thursday - and was immediately criticised for imposing a 17-year time frame on implementation.
The regulations say each school must have some form of electricity, sufficient water and a community or centralised library, and they recommend classroom sizes, among other measures.
Motshega released the regulations after a sustained campaign by the NGO Equal Education, which included court action.
On Thursday, educationists argued that the implementation of time frames in the revised document did not address the dire infrastructure situation in many schools with the urgency needed.
The new draft lays out details such as that every Grade R pupil must have at least a 2m² piece of classroom space and that each school must be protected by a fence at least 1.8m high.
Motshekga has until the end of November to publish a final version of the regulations, which spell an end to pit toilets and overcrowded classrooms.
But Basil Manuel, the president of the National Professional Teachers’ Organisation of South Africa, said while he realised that the infrastructure backlogs at schools could not all be fixed “overnight”, far more urgency was warranted.
The regulations give provincial education departments 10 years to provide basics such as electricity, water and sanitation, while the deadline for equipping schools with libraries, laboratories and sport facilities is 2030.
“What these regulations are saying is that there are hundreds of thousands of learners who will never see the inside of a school library or laboratory,” Manuel said.
“According to the department’s own reports there are approximately 2 000 schools that do not have water and about 900 that have no toilet facilities. It is unthinkable. We are talking about the basic dignity of learners and educators.”
Manuel also called a caveat in the draft regulations, which stated that implementation would take place as far as “reasonably practicable”, unacceptable.
Graeme Bloch, a visiting adjunct professor at Wits University’s School of Public and Development Management, agreed that while Motshekga had done well to abide by the court order, the regulation implementation time frames were “not good enough”.
Bloch added that he believed the regulations should be legally enforceable – “no ifs or buts about it”.
Equal Education’s deputy general secretary, Doron Isaacs, said while the punctual publication of the draft was welcomed, more time was needed to further scrutinise it before commenting.
Basic Education Department spokesman Panyaza Lesufi characterised the reaction to the publication of the regulations as positive. He emphasised that the document was a draft, and that the public was being invited to submit comments, which would be considered before a final version was published.
KwaZulu-Natal MEC for Education Senzo Mchunu previously told The Mercury that while the government knew what the ideal school should look like, and was working towards that standard, “impossible expectations” were not going to conjure bigger budgets.