Yoliswa Dwane, Equal Education, 3 August 2011
For more than 18 months, Equal Education has been campaigning for the adoption of regulations providing for Minimum Norms and Standards for School Infrastructure - which will specify the physical infrastructure standards that all schools must meet in order to function properly.
The promulgation of these minimum norms and standards is essential: regulations are needed to give content to the constitutional right to basic education, and to establish a legally-binding benchmark against which communities can hold Government to account in the provision of school infrastructure for public schools.
Parliament amended the South African Schools Act in 2007 introducing s5A which gives the Minister the power to adopt these national minimum norms and standards regulations. Then, in June 2010, the Department of Basic Education (DBE) adopted a policy, called the National Policy for an Equitable Provision of an Enabling School Physical Teaching and Learning Environment (NPEP), wherein the DBE committed to promulgating these regulations by 31 March 2011. This deadline passed four months ago, but these regulations have yet to be promulgated. Furthermore, the Department indicated in its 2009/2010 annual report (and elsewhere), that these norms and standards regulations had been developed in 2010 already. No reasonable explanation has been given for this delay.
Seventeen years after the end of apartheid, there remains a massive backlog and huge inequality with respect to school infrastructure in South Africa. A report released by the national Department of Basic Education in May 2011 reveals that, of South Africa’s 24,703 public schools,
- over 3 500 schools still do not have any access to electricity and a further 800 schools have an unreliable electricity supply;
- over 2 400 schools still do not have access to any water and a further 2 600 have an unreliable water supply;
- more than 900 schools do not have any ablution facilities while a further 11 000 still have to use pit latrine toilets;
- only 7% of schools have stocked and functioning libraries
- only 5% of schools have stocked and functioning laboratories; and
- only 10% of schools have stocked and functioning computer centres.
While some privileged schools have access to an abundance of resources and more than adequate infrastructure, the vast majority of poor, mainly black learners attend poorly resourced and often unsafe schooling environments.
Extremely poor and unequal levels of school infrastructure negatively affect teaching and learning. Effective planning and monitoring are essential if these massive backlogs are to be properly addressed. The Department has stated unequivocally, in the NPEP (above) that the adoption of national minimum norms and standards for school infrastructure regulations is a crucial first-step in addressing the shortages and disparities in the provision of school infrastructure. These regulations will ensure that Provincial budgets and infrastructure plans will be developed and implemented so that all schools meet optimum levels of functionality.
Further, the norms and standards regulations for school infrastructure will specifically define what the school environment should look like and will allow learners, teachers, parents, school governing bodies and communities to –assist the Minister in demanding at provincial and district level that schools are provided with the infrastructure necessary to create a more equal schooling environment that is conducive to quality teaching and learning.
The adoption of these norms and standards regulations has been unreasonably delayed, despite Equal Education’s numerous calls on the Minister to adopt these regulations within the DBE’s own deadline. Whilst the Minister has taken bold and progressive decisions in terms of removing OBE, intervening in the Eastern Cape, and introducing the Annual National Assessments, her response in regard to the establishment of these binding norms and standards for school infrastructure has been inadequate.
The Legal Resources Centre, on behalf of Equal Education and the infrastructure crisis committees of two schools in the Eastern Cape Menziwa Senior Secondary School (Menziwa SSS), and Mwezeni Senior Primary School (Mwezeni SPS), have now sent the Minister a lawyers’ letter requesting that these norms and standards be adopted without any further delay, failing which we will be forced to seek an order from the court compelling such promulgation.
Given that the Council of Education Ministers, consisting of the Minister and the provincial MECs, meets over the next two days, the Minister has an opportunity to inform her colleagues that she is signing the norms and standards regulations, thereby averting the need for any court process. Equal Education urges her to do this.
First published in Cosatu Today 4 August 2011