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Equal Education: Norms and Standards Victory!

Equal Education (EE) welcomes the adoption of Norms and Standards by Minister of Basic Education, Angie Motshekga, on Friday 29 November. The adoption of these legally binding Norms and Standards is a major victory for activism, and the result of over three years of sustained campaigning by thousands of Equal Education members and supporters across the country.

These Norms and Standards require that all mud and asbestos schools be eradicated within three years, and that schools without water, power and sanitation be provided with these services and resources in the same period. The previous draft Norms and Standards, which were released in September of this year, set ten years for the provision of these basic services and resources to schools.

The Norms and Standards also require that classrooms, electronic connectivity (telephones, fax machines and internet), fencing, as well as all other water, power and sanitation requirements be provided to schools within seven years, and that libraries and laboratories be provided to schools within ten years. This too is a significant improvement on the time frames contained in the previous draft for the provision of these resources.

MECs are now also required to develop school infrastructure plans within a year and to report annually to the Minister on their progress in implementing the Norms and Standards.

The History of the Norms and Standards Campaign

Up until just over one year ago, Minister Motshekga was saying she would never publish binding Norms and Standards. In the space of just one year a great deal has changed.

In November 2012 the Minister finally agreed, in an out-of-court settlement with EE, to publish Norms and Standards by May 15. The settlement was only achieved days before the Minister was due to face EE in the Bhisho High Court. Hundreds of EE supporters were about to begin camping outside the court when the agreement was struck.

In January 2013, the Minister published a draft. It was so poor that EE members asked if it was a summary. EE held public hearings around the country where hundreds of learners, parents and teachers  gave detailed input. We submitted our comments and mobilised in the streets. The Minister ended up conceding that her draft Norms and Standards “lack substance and certainty”.  But by the May 15 deadline, there was nothing to publish, and EE secured a court order to compel publication in the shortest possible time.

In September 2013 a second draft of the Norms and Standards was published. These were better, but we again submitted detailed objections based on intense participation by our membership.

Last week, on 29 November, the Minister complied with the court order and published final and binding Norms and Standards for School Infrastructure. This version is the third one this year, and although the Norms and Standards are not perfect, they’re vastly improved. They are a basis to improve thousands of schools and change millions of lives.

The adoption of Norms and Standards is, above all, a victory for the thousands of school-going members of Equal Education, the Equalisers. It is they who have marched, fasted, held vigils, slept outside parliament and marched again, and again, and again. They spoke at rallies, wrote letters to editors, wrote to the Minister, and made the case on the web, radio and TV. It is their voices – their collective voice – that created the moral consensus to fix our schools.

In addition to strong mobilisation in communities and schools, a concrete legal strategy supported our campaign. The staff of EE worked tirelessly over many years to bring us to this point. The Legal Resources Centre (LRC) represented EE at every crucial step of the legal process, as did Advocate Geoff Budlender SC. The Equal Education Law Centre (EELC) provided valuable legal support, and many other organisations made vital submissions and supported the campaign. In the end there was a coalition far bigger than EE that propelled this campaign to success. We are extremely grateful to all the individuals and organisations that participated in this effort.

Minister Angie Motshekga

We are extremely pleased to be walking forward with Minister Motshekga. We are here after three years of sustained activism and many broken promises, but we’re here. The Minister has done the right thing. She deserves substantial credit for that. Some within government urged her not to publish legally binding Norms and Standards. These regulations will be a proud part of her legacy.

The only issue unresolved is the Minister’s insulting and factually false racial attack on EE. Now that she has done what we were urging her to do all along, she must surely see that. We strongly urge the Minister to retract her remarks, and apologise.

Moving Forward

The Norms and Standards are not perfect, and in the coming period we will be releasing more detailed comment on their content and our particular concerns. We will also be writing to the Minister to share these concerns and ask for clarity on particular issues.

The Campaign for Norms and Standards has always been about a rational plan for providing decent school infrastructure for all. The Norms and Standards provide a sound, legal basis for this plan, which provincial education departments have to comply with, and which students, parents and organisations can use to hold government accountable for delivery.

For more information please contact:

Yoliswa Dwane (EE Chairperson): 076 706 2338
Brad Brockman (EE General Secretary): 072 267 8489
Heidi Swart (EE acting media officer): 082 253 1182

Carla GoldsteinEqual Education: Norms and Standards Victory!