EQUAL EDUCATION WELCOMES THE DESMOND TUTU HIV CENTRE’s SUBMISSION ON NORMS AND STANDARDS FOR SCHOOL INFRASTRUCTURE AND THE ROLE OF SUCH NORMS AND STANDARDS IN THE PREVENTION OF THE SPREAD OF TUBERCULOSIS IN SCHOOLS
Equal Education welcomes the Desmond Tutu HIV Centre’s submission on Norms and Standards for School Infrastructure and the emphasis it places on school infrastructure and its role in protecting learners from tuberculosis and respiratory diseases. The Centre is part of the University of Cape Town’s Institute of Infectious Diseases and Molecular Medicine. The submission was compiled by Prof Robin Wood (BSc, BMBCh, DTM & H, MMed, FCP (SA), DSc (Med)), Dr. Carl Marrow (PhD) and Michelle Nebergall (MA, MPH).
In March this year, the Centre submitted comment to the Department of Basic Education in response to the Department’s draft Minimum Norms and Standards. In the submission, the Centre focussed on “the need to enact norms and standards regulations for proper ventilation in classrooms and other educational spaces and to prevent overcrowding … in order to control the potential spread of tuberculosis and other airborne diseases in schools”.
The Centre’s submission states that South Africa has one of the world’s largest TB epidemics and almost 80% of the population carries the disease, with young people being especially vulnerable. South Africa has the third highest burden of TB in the world, according to the World Health Organisation, with roughly 400 000 new cases of TB in 2010 and an incidence that has increased by 400% in the last 15 years, according to the National Strategic Plan (NSP) on HIV, Sexually Transmitted Infections and Tuberculosis for 2012 – 2016.
The submission extensively cites research linking respiratory health to the school environment, and emphasises the importance of Norms and Standards for School Infrastructure in this regard, stating that,
- TB infections are predominantly acquired indoors, including in schools
- Schools are one of the top locations where people spend time indoors: 97.2% of indoor time and 80.4% of total indoor contacts occur in schools, homes and transport
- The possibility of TB transmission is determined by the number and duration of social contacts made in locations that are conducive to TB transmission
- Researchers recommend that ensuring adequate ventilation in classrooms and educational spaces be a major focus of design efforts
- Norms and Standards for School Infrastructure must ensure that classrooms, libraries, and other educational spaces as defined by the National Policy for an Equitable Provision of an Enabling School Physical Teaching and Learning Environment (NPEPA) are properly ventilated and that classrooms are not overcrowded.
- The best way to reduce TB is to eliminate the conditions that are conducive to the spread of TB, such as poor ventilation and overcrowding. Particularly as the Education Minister has agreed to promulgate Minimum Norms and Standards surrounding school infrastructure, failing to address ventilation and number of learners per classroom, as well as ensuring that each learner has adequate physical space, shows a clear neglect for the safety and well-being of learners.
- Minimum Norms and Standards that fail to effectively address classroom overcrowding and ventilation standards, increase the likelihood that learners will contract tuberculosis in schools and thus violates the state’s duty to protect this vulnerable population of learners.
In the light of this submission and the large body of research it brings to the fore about the negative impact that poor air quality and overcrowding has on learners, Equal Education considers the situation in South African schools to be a public health emergency.
On the 11th of this month, the Bhisho High Court issued a court order compelling the Minister of Basic Education to:
- Publish, by 12 September 2013, amended draft regulations for Minimum Uniform Norms and Standards for School Infrastructure for public comment and, in her sole discretion, consult directly with stakeholders
- Promulgate the final Minimum Uniform Norms and Standards for School Infrastructure by 30 November 2013, as well the time frames within which they must be complied with
EE eagerly awaits the promulgation of implementable norms and standards that will protect and promote the dignity, health, and safety of learners in schools.
Yoliswa Dwane – EE Chairperson 0723427747
Brad Brockman – EE General Secretary 0722678489
Heidi Swart – EE Publications and media officer 082 253 1182