Durban - Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga, already under fire from teachers unions, has been given four-and-a-half months by a court to produce minimum norms and standards for school infrastructure.
The Bhisho High Court had been approached by advocacy group, Equal Education,which has been campaigning for the norms and standards for years. These determine what minimum facilities have to be supplied by the government, such as toilets, running water, electricity, libraries, safe classrooms, sports fields and perimeter security.
Education stakeholders in KwaZulu-Natal have described it as a lifeline for education in South Africa, as they will have legal grounds to insist that infrastructure is improved.
Communities would be able to hold the government accountable if their schools fall short of the norms and standards.
In terms of an agreement with Equal Education, made an order of court, Motshekga has to publish, for comment, amended draft regulations for minimum norms and standards for school infrastructure by September 12.
She then has to promulgate the regulations by November 30.
Equal Education said Motshekga was in breach of an agreement, reached last November, in which she agreed to publish the standards by May 15.
The group met Motshekga, the deputy minister and the MECs for education last month and said Motshekga had told them adequate norms and standards “simply do not yet exist”.
Last month the department said the redrafting of the norms and standards would take at least six months.
On Thursday a statement said: “The agreement is a victory for the department since it is what the department had requested from the NGO in the first place.”
The department said the matter was never about whether there should be minimum norms and standards. “The issue is about the processes that have to take place for the finalisation of the norms.”
It said although there had been no norms and standards for infrastructure, provinces had been building schools that complied with a framework of minimum norms, which had been adopted by the Council of Education Ministers.
Anthony Pierce, chief executive of the KZN branch of the National Professional Teachers’ Organisation of South Africa (Naptosa), said that the order was long overdue.
He said it was a shame that it had taken this long to implement such an “important policy”.
Eighteen years into democracy and children were still sitting in schools without basic resources and infrastructure, he said.
The general secretary of the Educators Union of South Africa, Sphiwe Mpungose, said Motshekga had failed dismally from the time she was appointed.
It is rooted in her failure to promulgate norms and standards, he said. He said the court order would be a lifeline for the country’s education system.
“It is the first time a document will outline exactly what constitutes a school.”
Mpungose said more than 50 percent of the 6 000 schools in KZN needed upgrading.
Deputy chief executive of the Federation of Governing Bodies of South African Schools (Fedsas), Jaco Deacon, said they understood Equal Education’s frustration with the minister who “doesn’t obey court orders”.
“This legal document gives schools a chance to fight the department and hold officials accountable if norms and standards are not met.
It’s not sufficient to just have classrooms. There needs to be proper sanitation, a library, science classes and recreational facilities. You cannot have a school with no water and electricity. A lot of schools won’t comply.”
Education analyst at the Mapungubwe Institute, Graeme Bloch, said the norms and standards were absolutely essential but that a plan had to be developed.
“It will be a huge upgrade and I don’t think Equal Education are looking for an overnight transformation, but we can start talking about what a school should look like.”
Labby Ramrathan, associate professor at the University of KwaZulu-Natal School of Education, said the minister couldn’t make any more excuses and that implementation of norms and standards was long overdue.
“A large number of schools are in a bad state and extensive work will need to be done. If all goes as planned, there will be changes in some schools.
“But it will take time to implement it at all schools because the resources just aren’t available.
“It will bring confidence in schools and people need that,” said Ramrathan.