THE SUCCESS last week of Equal Education, assisted by the Legal Resources Centre, in convincing Minister of Basic Education Angie Motshekga to agree to set Minimum Norms and Standards for School Infrastructure is a compelling example of what can be achieved by civic activism.

The agreement came in a settlement between the parties ahead of a High Court hearing set down for this week in Bhisho.

Equal Education had been campaigning for two years to get the minister to set minimum norms and standards for schools, arguing that unequal access to quality infrastructure is a core aspect of inequality in education.

Of the nearly 25 000 public schools in South Africa, 93 percent have no libraries, 95 percent have no science laboratories, 2 402 have no water supply, 46 percent still use pit latrine toilets and 913 have no toilet facilities at all. The SA Schools Act empowers the minister to set out norms and standards on classrooms, electricity, water and sanitation, libraries, laboratories for maths, science and other subjects, sports facilities, internet and security, among other things, and Motshekga has now agreed to draft a set of norms, publish the list for comment by January 15 and finalise it by May.

Equal Education has hailed the settlement as “a victory for learners, parents and communities across the country” and so it is. Norms and standards for school infrastructure will set legal requirements against which all schools can be judged and which all provinces will have to meet.

Of course it is sad that it was necessary to threaten the government with court action in order to get this far. And of course there is still some way to go: further mobilisation of parents, teachers, pupils and communities will be necessary to make sure that the standards set are adequate, and it may also be necessary to have recourse to the courts to make sure that the standards are enforced.

But last week’s agreement is a milestone on the way to eliminating inequalities in our schools, and a reminder of the power of citizens to bring about change.