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Equal Education submits comment on draft norms and standards

Equal Education welcomes the Department of Basic Education’s more detailed draft norms and standards, but raises concerns about its timeframes and accountability measures.

On Friday 11 October 2013, Equal Education (EE) and the Equal Education Law Centre (EELC) filed a joint submission on the Department of Basic Education’s (DBE’s) draft Minimum Norms and Standards for School Infrastructure.

The DBE released the draft norms and standards on 11 September 2013 for public comment after Equal Education obtained a court order by consent in the Bhisho High Court on 11 July 2013.  Equal Education was represented by the Legal Resources Centre (LRC).  By order of court the Minister of Basic Education has until 30 November 2013 to finalise and adopt the norms and standards.

The submission drew together the comments of hundreds of learners and parents who participated in public workshops which EE hosted during September and October throughout the country. Workshops were held in Gauteng, Limpopo, the Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal and the Western Cape.

EE and the EELC view the September draft as a much improved version of the previous draft norms and standards released in January 2013, and we welcome these improvements: the September draft contains considerably more detail, including built-in timeframes and accountability measures, which the January draft did not. However, we do not think that these timeframes demonstrate recognition of the urgency of the problem, and the accountability measures in the draft are not strong enough.

Timeframes

The draft states that water, electricity, classrooms, toilets and fencing should be provided within 10 years, and all other norms by 2030. We consider schools without water, electricity, adequate classrooms and sanitation to be in an emergency situation. The delivery of basic services and infrastructure to these schools is an urgent priority, and the norms and standards should recognise it as such.

Learners and parents who attended the EE workshops felt very strongly about this. As Mvelo Zondi, a learner from Nqutu in KwaZulu-Natal, said, “Learners who are learning under trees cannot wait for so long as they suffer a lot.”

Learners also felt that it was not fair that they had to wait for 17 years for libraries, laboratories, sports fields and facilities as well as computer centres.Tibatso, a learner from Tembisa in Gauteng, expressed this when he said, “In 17 years I’ll be so old, having children, and they cannot learn under such conditions.”

The norms and standards should classify schools according to need.  Schools that are in worst condition, in unsafe structures, should be classified as such and prioritised. These learners cannot be expected to wait for 10 years.

Accountability Measures

The current draft stipulates that six months after the norms and standard are finalised and adopted, provincial MECs will have to submit a plan to the Minister on how they will ensure implementation. MECs will also have to report annually on their progress to the Minister.

We welcome the stipulation that these plans and reports will have to be completed – in accordance with Section 58C of the South African Schools Act (SASA) of 1996. However, we believe that MECs should release their plans and annual reports to the public.

Norms and standards afford learners, parents, schools and communities a unique opportunity to monitor and hold provincial education departments to account. However, they need to have easy access to all relevant information to be able to do so. Mantoko Mojakisane, a parent from Kraaifontein in the Western Cape, expressed this when she said that parents “want the truth as to how the education of our children and the conditions of their schools will improve.”

Learners and parents were also not satisfied with the fact that the current draft only provides two deadlines, both of which are far off into the future (10 and 17 years). They felt that shorter, intermediate timeframes would enable them to hold government to account and spur it into action. As a learner from Tembisa in Gauteng commented, “Procrastination is the thief of time. If the Minister keeps on proposing too much time, she will end up not providing any of the things listed on the draft.”

Other Concerns

Other important concerns with the current draft include:

• The classroom capacity of 40 learners is too high: Learners expressed an overwhelming sentiment that acceptable class sizes must be at a learner-to-educator ratio of 30:1.
• It is insufficient to have rainwater harvesting as a sole source of water: It is important that if rain water tanks are used, the consistency of water supply is guaranteed by an alternative ‘back-up’ source.
• The DBE should accept overarching responsibility for the implementation of norms and standards: The draft correctly recognises the need for cooperative governance in implementing the norms and standards. However, it gives the DBE a way out by making its ability to deliver on its obligations contingent on the cooperation of other government departments.
• The goal should be to provide every school with a library and a laboratory: We welcome that the draft provides for laboratory materials and library resources in schools. But it does not guarantee that a dedicated library and laboratory will be provided to each school, even over the long-term.
• Schools already planned but not built must be included in the norms and standards: The draft makes no provision for schools where planning has already started but do not yet exist at the date of publication.
• The norms and standards should include more guidance on where new schools should be built: There is a need to be more specific in the planning norms so that those involved in the planning and construction of the school know what factors should guide their decisions.
• The norms and standards should prohibit the use of inappropriate materials for school construction: It is disappointing that the draft fails to set out what materials classrooms can be made from, and that they must be safe and comply with relevant building regulations.  There must be a clear statement that schools made of inappropriate building materials such as corrugated iron, mud, or asbestos will not be tolerated.

Equal Education’s sustained campaigning over three years, involving thousands of young people and parents from across the country, compelled the Minister to draft regulations that lay the physical foundations for an adequate education. We look forward to the finalised and improved norms and standards being adopted by Minister Motshekga by 30 November 2013.

For comment please contact:
Yoliswa Dwane (Chairperson of Equal Education): 076 706 2338
Cameron McConnachie (Attorney at the LRC): 083 387 8738 or 046 622 9230
Lisa Draga (Attorney at the EELC):  072 650 0214

Carla GoldsteinEqual Education submits comment on draft norms and standards