Cape Town -

It is the state’s obligation to educate all children until they are literate and numerate, say applicants in a court case which claims the government has failed to provide basic education.

Wrapping up for the applicants, advocate Paul Hoffman SC said it was their case that children should emerge after nine years of schooling – the minimum amount of time they had to remain in school – able to read and count.

“The government of South Africa has consciously failed to equip the majority of students with basic literacy and numeracy skills.”

The applicants in the mattter, the Western Cape-based Progressive Principals’ Association and education activist Jean Pease, had said “basic education is not being delivered effectively and efficiently to a large proportion of the children of South Africa”.

They had said provision of early childhood development for each child, teaching children in their mother tongue, the professionalisation of teachers, and the supply and delivery of textbooks and teaching materials were essential for the delivery of basic education.

Respondents in the matter were the national government, Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga, the nine Education MECs, the ministers of Finance and Social Development, the public protector, the SA Human Rights Commission and the auditor-general.

In response to the respondents’ assertion that out-of-date statistics had been used to build their case, Hoffman said: “We can hardly attach information to the founding papers which at the time didn’t exist.”

The applicants’ heads of arguments in reply argued: “The applicants are not blessed with prescience. They could not anticipate the relevant documents that have occurred in 2014. They are entitled to respond to the matters raised by the second respondent in her answering affidavit to the extent that it is relevant to do so.”

Acting for the respondents, Chris Erasmus SC questioned to which level the applicants expected pupils be educated. He pointed to the applicants’ court papers which said the delivery of effective basic education was defined as “learners shining in the annual national assessments and graduating from Grade 12, functionally literate and numerate, to a sufficient extent that they are able to successfully participate in the job market, or are able to progress to tertiary education”.

Erasmus said that test rendered “structural relief unworkable” and was “an impossible way to set a standard”, adding the Department of Basic Education was required to provide “equal access to education”.

“We submit we should be afforded the time to turn around the injustices of the past.”

Judgment was reserved.

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Cape Times