Equal Education closed its three-day People’s Summit for Quality Education by launching a campaign to adopt an Education Charter to unite the movement for equal and quality education in South Africa.
About 400 learners, parents, teachers, activists and researchers attended Equal Education’s (EE) People’s Summit for Quality Education from June 25th to June 27th 2011 at the University of Cape Town and Khayelitsha. Delegates travelled from as far afield as Thohyandou and Polokwane in Limpopo, Grahamstown and Umtata in the Eastern Cape, Thembisa and Johannesburg in Gauteng, and KwaZulu-Natal.
50 NGOs were represented at the Summit, including Sharing to Learn, Vulindlela Reading Clubs, Wordworks, the SHINE Centre, Bulungula Incubator, the Bitou 10 Foundation, Penreach, Ubunye, IkamvaYouth, Upstart, Amandla EduFootball and City Year.
Almost all teacher unions were represented.
Charter Campaign Launched
EE launched a campaign to adopt an Education Charter at the Summit. The Campaign aims to take forward the important work started at the Summit: the articulation of a joint vision of a just educational future and a national movement to realise this vision.
The drawing up of the Charter will be an inclusive process that should penetrate all levels of South African society. Learners, parents, teachers and workers from across the country will discuss, debate and put forward their demands for an equal education system, both as individuals and as organisations.
In and of itself, a charter will not erect brick structures where mud schools now stand. It will not fix broken windows, establish libraries in schools or do away with the deep inequalities of South Africa’s education system, but it will educate communities about their rights and responsibilities. It will provide impetus and a strategic direction for joint efforts and campaigns, and galvanize the movement around a joint vision of an education system that is equal, progressive and just.
Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga addresses Summit opening
The official opening of the Summit took place on the evening of June 25th at the OR Tambo Hall in Khayelitsha. Minister of Basic Education Angie Motshekga attended the opening as guest speaker.
Phatiswa Shushwana, a Grade 11 learner from Luhlaza High School and a member of EE’s leadership committee, delivered the first address of the evening. She spoke to the deep disappointment felt by learners who, 17 years after the end of apartheid, were still receiving poor quality education. She quoted former president Nelson Mandela who, in Long Walk to Freedom, described education as a tool for empowerment and transformation. However, for countless South African learners this notion of education as a force for development has not yet been realised. She explained: “…the way we receive our education today is bitter and prepares us to be garden boys and domestic workers.” She added: “South African learners experience the pain of going to schools without windows, without water, without electricity and, to make it worse, without roofs.”
In her address, Minister Motshekga appealed to the Freedom Charter, which holds that “The Doors of Learning and Culture Shall be Opened”. Minister Motshekga said that “these noble aspirations and our vision for a better society find resonance in community driven initiatives, like Equal Education’s People’s Summit for Quality Education”
The Minister acknowledged that poor educational achievement is a major challenge in South Africa, but added: “We have choice. We can dwell on the bad news, and whip ourselves and one another for it. But that will not solve anything. We have to harness our joint anger for the greater good of the children. We have to find a way forward.”
Donald Grant, the Western Cape MEC for Education, also addressed the opening. The MEC reviewed the challenges in the Western Cape from the point of view of his department.
Yoliswa Dwane, Head of Policy, Communications and Research at EE delivered the evening’s keynote address. Her address centred on the role of citizens in realising the right to equal, quality education. She said: “Our governments, past and present, national, provincial and local, have all played their part in perpetuating inequality, but each of us should be accountable and responsible for correcting this. The educated and privileged should join the struggle for equal and quality education.”
The Summit programme wrestled with a wide range of topics, including inequality and poor quality in education, quality and equal education for learners with special needs, mother-tongue education, and practical ways in which learners, parents and teachers could take action to improve schools.
Equal Education members described the successes and challenges they have experienced in their campaigns. Andiswa Kolanisi and Nokubonga Yawa, mothers from Macassar and Khayelitsha, explained their work in organising parents to hold schools accountable and encouraging them to take a more active role in their children’s education. Kolanisi told the audience: “The truth is that for this situation to change, for our children to get the quality education they deserve, we as parents need to take action. But first we need to understand the problem, which I don’t think we do. We are not aware of what our children are going through at school. Most of us do not attend school meetings, either because we work long hours and come home tired or because we don’t think it’s important.”
EE’s Nthuthuzo Ndzomo described educational inequality as it is experienced by EE’s members. Matric performance in the Western Cape’s 352 public secondary schools remained vastly unequal. In the 60-odd former DET schools around half of learners fail Matric in contrast to the 120-odd former CED schools, where there are hardly any failures. The 160-odd former HOR schools are characterised by varying levels of achievement, with around a quarter of learners failing Matric. Ndzomo pointed out that in 2009, only 26 out of 1 283 matriculants who passed in Khayelitsha obtained 50%+ passes in both mathematics and physical sciences.
Advocate Geoff Budlender spoke about how law and activism could be used together to realise the right to quality education. He argued that litigation needed to be used in the context of a broader strategy of activism and said that it was vital that lawyers were involved in social movements on the ground.
Zackie Achmat, Chairperson of the Equal Education Board, said in the closing address that solidarity was the only way to overcome the pervasive and deep inequalities in South African society.
Achmat also announced that EE will be sleeping outside Parliament on 12 July 2011 until the Minister of Basic Education finalises regulations for Minimum Norms and Standards for School Infrastructure, which in terms of Section 5A of the Schools Act, she alone has the final power to create.
EE has been campaigning for the adoption of Minimum Norms and Standards, which will specify the basic level of infrastructure that every school must meet in order to function properly.