IN the “most far-reaching court case about the right to basic education”, Equal Education has filed court papers to compel the government to provide equal infrastructure to all schools.
In an unprecedented action, the NGO announced at a press conference in Cape Town yesterday that it had filed papers in the Bhisho High Court against Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga, Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan and all the Education MECs.
“The papers seek an order compelling Minister Motshekga to prescribe minimum norms and standards for school infrastructure. This is the most far-reaching court case about the right to basic education to have been launched in democratic South Africa,” said Equal Education co-ordinator Doron Isaacs.
He explained that proper standards for schools would also help to address the problem of under-spending: “The Eastern Cape has spent only 28 percent of its R1.45 billion school budget because (Motshekga) refuses to set standards which the
province must meet,” he said. There were various challenges in SA education including quality of teaching and textbook availability, and that campaigning for infrastructure was a step in a long process of transforming education.
“… the connection between infrastructure and outcomes is clear. Research from developing countries around the world shows this, and the minister herself has explicitly acknowledged it,” he argued.
Equal Education policy head Yoliswa Dwane said:
“EE has been campaigning for minimum norms and standards for school infrastructure for two years. Thousands of people across the country have joined our campaign.”
She said Equal Education members, teachers, parents and communities had petitioned, picketed, fasted and slept outside Parliament, and protested repeatedly. Despite this, Motshekga had failed to exercise her powers – as set out in the SA Schools Act – to prescribe minimum norms and standards. “Because of Minister Motshekga’s refusal… South Africa’s pupils have continued to be taught under unacceptable conditions. EE believes that it has exhausted alternatives and it is with great regret that it has had to resort to legal action.”
She added that school infrastructure was a vital component of basic education, yet schools were not required by law to have functioning libraries, effective sanitation facilities, well-stocked laboratories or even safe classrooms.
Motshekga had admitted that school infrastructure, particularly in rural areas, was in an “appalling state”.
She said almost 3 600 schools did not have electricity, 92 percent did not have a functioning library, in KwaZulu-Natal alone over 600 schools did not have toilet facilities and in the Eastern Cape there were 395 “mud schools”.
“The right to a basic education cannot be seen as separate from the conditions under which pupils are taught. Without a uniform standard, the education system will continue to be defined by historical inequality,” she said.
Part A of the court papers refers to two Eastern Cape schools, Mwezeni Senior Primary School and Mkanzini Junior Secondary School. According to the papers, the schools do not have adequate infrastructure and have to conduct classes in mud classrooms or corrugated iron shacks.
The NGO is applying for the schools to be provided with “emergency relief to remedy the crisis they are currently attempting to function under”.
Part B seeks to compel Motshekga to prescribe minimum norms and standards for infrastructure. The papers do not suggest what minimum norms and standards Motshekga should prescribe – this is her prerogative. All the NGO is asking for is that she sets a standard so that she can begin to hold provinces accountable.
Motshekga’s spokeswoman, Hope Mokgatlhe, said Motshekga declined to comment because the department was studying the papers.