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Submission to Parliament – Comments on How to Improve Basic Education

Equal Education recently made a submission to the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Basic Education. The submission is titled: 'Comments on How to Improve Basic Education with respect to school infrastructure and school libraries'. It provides a good overview of the importance of decent infrastructure, the current backlogs and the regulatory roadblocks needing attention. To read more click below to view the original submission click here or download the submission.

Submission to Portfolio Committee on Basic Education – Comments on How to Improve Basic Education:


      Executive Summary                                                                                              

    1. Introduction        
    2. The link between school infrastructure and improved learner performance        
    3. The current state of school infrastructure – NEIMS Report 2009        
    4. The National Policy for an Equitable Provision of an Enabling School Physical Teaching and Learning Environment, and ‘National Minimum Norms and Standards for School Infrastructure.

      1. The draft National Policy   
      2. The draft Minimum Norms and Standards 
    5. Basic school infrastructure, looking at school libraries                                       

      1. The link between school libraries and improved learner performance   
      2. The status of school libraries in South Africa                                  

                                   3. What would it cost to implement a National Policy for the provision of school libraries in all our schools?                                                                                    


Key recommendations with regard to school infrastructure and school libraries              

Secondary Recommendations                                                                                            




Executive Summary


Equal Education (EE) is a movement of learners, parents, teachers and community members working for quality and equality in South African education, through research, analysis and activism. Our head office is in Khayelitsha, Western Cape. Since being founded in 2008, Equal Education has led initiatives aimed at the development of learning facilities; improved practice, content and access to teaching; the building of commitment and passion among teachers and learners; and improving the overall efficacy of South Africa’s education system, among other things. Our focus and attention is directed by the interests of our members, drawn largely from the working-class and poor. Some of our successful campaigns have resulted in the upgrade of school facilities, centred around the repair of 500 broken windows in a Khayelitsha school, and reducing the proportion of learners coming late in school across Cape Town. 


In 2009, EE began the Campaign for School Libraries. This campaign, the slogan of which is “1 School, 1 Library, 1 Librarian,” seeks to address the gross shortage of libraries in our public schools. The campaign speaks directly to the need for broad infrastructural improvement in public schools. The most recent government statistics reveal that there are still many schools in South Africa that are without, or have extremely poor, basic infrastructure.


This paper deals with the broad basic infrastructural needs and backlogs faced by many South African schools, which include the supply of water; sanitation; electricity; libraries; laboratories and computer centres. There still exists major inequality in access to basic resources in our schools. This is reflected in the disparate results between poor and privileged schools, with the latter performing better across the board. Based on sound research that demonstrates the positive link between improved access to resources and infrastructure and improved outcomes it is argued that the Department of Basic Education must adopt a national legal and policy framework against which the development of school infrastructure must be assessed. This must be addressed systematically through an equitable policy, in order for the backlogs to be adequately and efficiently dealt with, in view of the current inequalities. 


After dealing with the need to address problems in school infrastructure generally, particular focus is given to the lack of school libraries. The schools attended by the majority of Equal Education’s learner membership face a broad range of infrastructural problems, however it was particularly the issue of libraries which our members raised and committed themselves to addressing through the Campaign for School Libraries. The demands set by the EE Campaign for School Libraries are directly in line with the outcomes of local and international research, which demonstrates a clear link between the provision of school libraries and improved learner performance. EE has conducted a study producing a costing estimate for the provision of functional libraries in all South African public schools. The findings of this study will also be dealt with in brief below; however the full research document is annexed hereto.





1 Introduction


There is sufficient international, regional and local research to demonstrate the causal connection between the level of resources and infrastructure that a school has, and its learner outcomes. The research may not assume that improved resources alone will translate into higher learner achievement, however the evidence strongly suggests that infrastructure plays a significant role. This element of the education system has a particular bearing in post 1994 South Africa, which inherited a system, historically based on targeted disproportional input (according to race classification), which generated vast disparities between former white schools and black schools. Inequality in learner performance between schools in South Africa is still vast and much higher than other countries in the Southern African region. Studies show that, despite large increases in the provision of resources to historically black schools, former white and Indian schools still perform far better than historically black and so-called coloured schools in South Africa.[1]


In part, it is within a historical context of apartheid that the current crisis in South African education system must be understood. However, it has been 16 years since the political transition with little significant progress having been made with respect to the inequalities that exist between our schools in terms of infrastructure and learner performance – which often mirrors these differences. The most recent report on school infrastructure shows major backlogs in the provision of basic resources for schools, including water, sanitation, electricity, libraries, laboratories and computer centers (amongst other things).


Table 1: Literacy in the Western Cape.

Percentage of grade 6 learners literate at the standard level of grade 6.






CED (former ‘white’ schools)




results not


HOR (former ‘coloured’ schools)



DET (former ‘black’ schools)



Aggregated result for all schools





Source: WCED


The table above shows the poor state of literacy in the Western Cape, where, most recently 44,8% (less than half) of the province’s grade 6 learners were literate at the standard grade 6 level. But what the table also shows is the enormous inequality between well-resourced former model-C schools, and poorly resourced township schools. In 2003, only 3,7% of grade 6 learners in ‘black’ township schools were literate at the required level. More than one third of these same grade 6 learners did not even have a grade 3 level of literacy.


The absence of resources is particularly acute in the case of functional school libraries, enjoyed by only 8% of public schools. Nevertheless, the government has to date failed to adopt a national policy on school libraries, nor to finalise proposed regulations aimed at addressing the backlogs and inequality in access to school infrastructure, the absence of which severely hampers any progress.


In order to address the school infrastructure backlog, three main steps need to be employed by the Department of Basic Education namely; continually tracking and quantifying the backlog; developing a national policy and legislative framework – including planning, prioritising and establishing benchmarks against which progress can be measured; and lastly an effective and accountable implementation plan.


The need for improvement in school infrastructure has not been entirely ignored by the government. In a number of instances the government has expressly recognised this concern and has consistently increased its budget allocation for this purpose. However, by failing to make use of backlog tracking mechanisms to develop clear policies, a legal framework and effective implementation plan, it is failing the majority of our learners.


2 The link between school infrastructure and improved learner performance


There is a significant body of research that demonstrates a clear link between improvements in school infrastructure and higher learner performance. Recent studies conducted using research data from SACMEQ II[2] (the second major educational policy report using data collected in 14 sub-Saharan African countries) demonstrate that ‘in schools with access to more physical resources – such as libraries, administration offices, playgrounds, electricity, running water and equipment that is ubiquitous in schools in developed countries – students achieve at higher levels.’[3]


Using the same data, Van der Berg employs a hierarchical linear model to assess the

relationship between reading and mathematic scores on the one hand, and socio-economic status of schools and the learners on the other, to trace a link between these and higher learner achievement. He found that “…mean school SES [socio-economic status] affected the intercept positively i.e. that richer schools performed better, ceteris paribus.” Van der Berg’s study shows that although raising the SES of a learner will produce higher achievement levels, the SES of a school has a far greater impact in yielding higher results. Thus, “[i]n poor schools, not even high individual SES scores could generate a good reading score, as performance was weak throughout the spectrum, [while] even those few children with low SES in rich schools performed better than similar individuals in poor or average schools.”[4]


Gustafsson, in his analysis of data of the first SACMEQ report, also highlights this correlation stating that “…[b]etter school infrastructure…is strongly associated with better learner performance. Even if we use the more conservative slope coefficients from the mathematics models, the simulation indicates that raising the quality of school infrastructure in all HD [historically disadvantaged] schools to that of the average HA [historically advantaged] school would improve the scores by around 14 per cent in the HD schools.”[5]


The significance of this correlation between school infrastructure and learner performance becomes even more crucial when one considers the historically inherited inequalities in South Africa’s education system, which are exceedingly high compared to all other countries included in the SACMEQ II report. “South Africa has by far the highest recorded values.”[6] It is here that the research findings make their most pertinent assertions. Poor (former) black and coloured schools still perform the worst; however it is shown that the disparity in performance between rich and poor schools disproportionately exceeds the disparity in socio-economic status between the learners. This can only be put down to inequality between the schools themselves. As Gustafsson notes:


…the inter-school inequalities, relative to overall inequalities, are greater with regard to performance than they are with regard to socio-economic status [and] it is important for this to be the other way round. Schools should have an equalising effect on society…[7] 


Nick Taylor picks up on the point made by Gustafsson and notes that: 


…instead of ameliorating the inequalities in South African society by providing poor children with the knowledge and skills needed to escape poverty and contribute to national development, the majority of schools, at best, have no equalising effect; at worst they may even be further disadvantaging their pupils.[8]


The direct link between improved school physical infrastructure and higher learner performance must be considered in light of the inequalities – in access to basic resources, between South African schools. This means that the current system is not adequately addressing this problem and may in fact be perpetuating it. With the continued drop in matric pass rates since 2003, from 73.3% to 60.6%, all factors found to impact on learner performance, including the equitable provision of resources and school infrastructure, must be urgently and systematically provided if this crisis is to be dealt with. 


We now turn to the current state of affairs in terms of basic physical school infrastructure.


3 The current state of school infrastructure – NEIMS Report 2009


The most recent government report on school infrastructure in South Africa, the National

Education Infrastructure Management Systems [NEIMS] Report 2009[9] details the continuing crisis that many schools in our country face. The report deals with the provision of electricity; water; sanitation; libraries; laboratories; computer centres and sports facilities. (Interestingly, the Report does not deal with actual school buildings). This report provides the details of what is still required in order to ensure that school environments are conducive to achieving an improvement in learning outcomes.


According to the NEIMS Report, 2009, of the 24 460 public ordinary schools:


• 3 600 have no electricity supply, while a further 800 had an unreliable electricity supply (the largest number of these schools being in the Eastern Cape and Kwazulu-Natal);


• 2 444 have no water supply, while a further 2563 have an unreliable water supply (the Eastern Cape and Kwazulu-Natal being the worst provinces);


•  only 7 847 have municipal flush toilets, while 970 still do not have any ablution facilities and 11 231 still use pit-latrine toilets;


•  only 8% have stocked and functioning libraries;[10]


•  only 10% have stocked computer centers; and


•  only 5% have stocked laboratories.


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Submission to Parliament – Comments on How to Improve Basic Education