Our partners in South Africa, Equal Education (EE) and Equal Education Law Centre (EELC), are at a critical point in their ongoing campaign to compel the South African government to establish minimum norms and standards for school infrastructure. The South African Schools Act of 1996 empowered the Minister of Basic Education to set minimum norms and standards for all schools. These regulations were never established and, as a result, many South African schools—particularly those in rural areas and townships—lack basic essentials such as running water, electricity, functioning toilets, libraries, laboratories, computer centers, and perimeter security. Binding norms and standards can help equalize the learning experience in a nation still suffering from the legacy of apartheid.
EE asked Minister Angie Motshekga to issue these regulations for years before eventually filing legal action in March 2012, represented by the Legal Resources Centre, to compel her to act. Last November, Minister Motshekga agreed to a settle the case and, as part of the settlement, to promulgate binding norms and standards. As a first step in this process, in January the Minister published Draft Minimum Norms and Standards for comment from interested parties.
Unfortunately, the draft is disappointingly vague on substance. Any school infrastructure, no matter how problematic, could meet its standards. For example, under the proposed guidelines, it could still be acceptable to have 70 students packed into a single classroom, or to provide three pit latrines and two water taps at a school of 3000 students. Equally troubling, the draft does not establish any timelines for implementation or any mechanisms for reporting or accountability.
EE responded to this weak draft by organizing public hearings across South Africa to ensure that the voices of those most impacted—learners, parents, and educators—will not be ignored. Hundreds of individual comments were gathered. EE and EELC have submitted their own critique of the draft, including a detailed appendix that summarizes and outlines specific areas of concern identified by learners, parents, and educators at these public hearings.
As one student from the Eastern Cape explained to the Minister in her submission: “[Y]ou have said that there must be administration spaces, basic safety, educational spaces, educational support spaces, and enrichment. I can not understand all of these things stated here because they are not specified.” Another student from the Eastern Cape stated plainly to Minister Motshekga, “We are children and for us to reach our goals or dreams, we need your support.” We hope that Minister Motshekga will hear and heed these calls for meaningful change and specificity when she releases the final norms and standards in May.
To learn more about the campaign for minimum norms and standards for school infrastructure, watch this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-_zMijZ7ePU%3Frel%3D0&%3Bw=560&%3Bh=315
Jeanne Segil, JD ’14, is a student in the International Human Rights Clinic who has worked all year on education-related issues in South Africa, under the supervision of Clinical Director Susan Farbstein and in partnership with EELC.