EQUAL EDUCATION MEMORANDUM ON EDUCATIONAL INEQUALITY TO MEC DEBBIE SCHAFER
31 OCTOBER 2014
WE ARE MARCHING TODAY FOR BETTER SCHOOLS
- It is impossible to learn when our schools cannot provide dignified and safe sanitation. It is impossible to learn when our windows and doors are broken, when our roofs leak and when we have to sit three to a desk and two to a chair. It is impossible to learn when we experience our schools as violent places, where teachers still practise corporal punishment and gangsters are able to enter freely to sell drugs and rob us because our schools have broken fences and no security guards.
- These issues prevent us from realising the most basic parts of our right to education. But we are not interested in access only; we are fighting for quality education, and we will not stop organising and building our strength until we get there. That is why we are also marching for access to quality libraries, computer centres and science labs. That is why we need well-trained, well-supported and committed teachers. That is why we need quality sports, cultural and after-school programmes. That is why we need programmes to help learners who are caught up in drugs and gangsterism, instead of just punishing them. That is why we are demanding fair and equal treatment for pregnant learners, as well as access to quality sex education and condoms. Our schools must become places where we receive the quality education we are entitled to under our Constitution.
- For these reasons we are demanding quality, equality and equity NOW!
- We are determined to be the last generation of South African learners who suffer the consequences of a deeply unequal education system. We also know that this inequality is part of broader social and economic inequality in our society, and that it is getting worse. We see our fight as part of other struggles for equality and freedom, against inequality, exploitation and corruption, against all forms of racism and class discrimination in South Africa and across the world.
- We want the world described to us in the Freedom Charter, in which “education shall be free, compulsory, universal and equal for all children.” Equality includes the full and equal enjoyment of all rights and freedoms, and our right to education is no different. We all deserve quality education; it is our right.
LEARNERS MUST LEAD TO CLAIM THEIR EQUAL RIGHTS
- For the past two months, we have been building up campaigns in our schools and communities. Through a democratic process, we chose to campaign on the issues we feel undermine teaching and learning at our schools most seriously. We have discussed and debated the ways in which our education suffers as a result. We have conducted audits at our schools so that we understand how big the challenges we face are. We have educated ourselves about these issues: we have engaged with research about them and how they affect our learning; we know the law and understand what it entitles us to; we know who is responsible for ensuring that quality education in the province is delivered to all; and together we have formulated demands to put to our government. We have engaged with our fellow learners, teachers, principals, parents and community members on the challenges we are facing, and we will continue to build support for our fight until it is won.
OUR DAILY CHALLENGES
- As members of EE, we understand our rights.
- Our health is threatened when we are exposed to filthy and unhygienic toilets, without access to taps, soap, toilet paper or sanitary bins. Female learners miss out on weeks of teaching and learning because of this. Often the doors and locks in our bathrooms are broken, and sometimes boys and girls have to share bathrooms when entire toilet blocks are closed or non-functional. Our privacy and dignity is violated in this way.
- When we see pregnant learners being excluded from class and victimised in schools, it affects our education, especially as young women. We see pregnant learners being denied their rights to education, to dignity and to equality. It is clear; to exclude pregnant girls from school in any way is gender discrimination. It sends the message that it is okay for boys to do whatever they want and take no responsibility, while girls are humiliated and made to feel ashamed. Even worse, only 34% of girls who leave school because of pregnancy ever finish their matric. Our schools need to stop discriminating against pregnant learners and start providing as much support as possible to make sure that teen pregnancy doesn’t ruin the lives of pregnant learners. Of course we don’t think teenage pregnancy is a ‘good thing’ but we know it can’t be stopped by punishment. Schools must provide access to quality sex education and condoms, so that learners know how to be safe, how to look after their health and how to avoid pregnancy.
- When our schools lack basic security infrastructure, it affects our education. As learners from poor and working-class communities, we are already exposed to dangers that learners in wealthy neighbourhoods will never understand. We know that our communities are unsafe, and that there is a huge failure by government to provide enough resources for them to be kept safe. The Khayelitsha Commission of Inquiry showed that there is systemic bias against black and coloured communities when it comes to police to population ratios. Khayelitsha Site B has just 1 police officer for every 1675 people. Mitchell’s Plain has just 1 officer for every 3240 people. Meanwhile, Camp’s Bay has 1 officer for every 38 people. Why? Are the lives of black and coloured working-class children not worth as much as the lives of rich white children?
- Many of us arrive at school each day traumatised and unable to learn because of what we see and experience in our communities. 32% of learners in Khayelitsha have seen another human being getting shot; 46% have witnessed a stabbing. Murder is the leading cause of death for people age 15-19 years living in Khayelitsha. In such a violent and unsafe world, our schools must be non-violent, safe spaces for us. The WCED may not be in charge of stopping all crime, but it is their shared responsibility to make sure that our schools are safe and secure. We cannot accept excuses about vandalism of school fences. We will not be told that it is our own fault that we are experiencing violence at school. EE members demand and will fight for proper fencing and proper security guards; we will realise our right to safety at school.
- Our campaign against violence in schools includes the demand for an end to corporal punishment, which is illegal and must be stopped. Teachers cannot use violence to solve problems; this teaches learners that violence can be used as a solution for their problems as well.
- We recognise that our teachers are expected to teach under very difficult conditions. Teachers in township schools have far bigger classes and far greater challenges to face, but they get less support, fewer resources and are paid less than teachers in former Model C schools in the rich parts of Cape Town. The result is that the quality of the teaching we get at school is often far below that of wealthy learners, who go to schools that can pay their teachers more and provide better support and resources. The answer is not just to blame everything on our teachers, as politicians and the media often do – they need our support. Our campaign to ensure our right to quality education can only work if we improve conditions for teachers as well.
- We know how important quality libraries, computer centres and science labs are for achieving equal education for all. We know that without these things we are receiving an inferior education. We live in homes where there is usually very little space to do our homework. We live in homes where there are few books to read and even fewer computers to work with. Some communities have libraries but most don’t; when we have to travel to use libraries we are often attacked and robbed. How can we learn to love reading without access to books? How can we access all the knowledge and opportunities that are available online if we don’t have access to computers? How can we excel in chemistry, engineering and other technical subjects when our schools lack lab spaces and appropriate equipment? It is crucial that our schools provide us with these resources so that we can reach our fullest potential. We don’t just want access; we want quality!
- We are aware of efforts that have and are being made to address some of the above. We have used the library built in Harare, Khayelitsha, and look forward to the new library in Kuyasa. We campaigned for and attended the Khayelitsha Commission of Inquiry into the police, which the province arranged, and it gave voice to our difficulties and showed how much needs to be done. We have seen that textbook supply to our schools has really improved, although some of us do not have all our books. We have seen some new schools built in Kensington and elsewhere, but the rate of delivery is slow. We expect that implementing the new Norms and Standards for School Infrastructure will speed this process up. We are aware of these efforts. We hope you understand from this memorandum though, that the challenges we face on a daily basis are enormous, that we experience Apartheid’s legacy daily, and that much greater investment and efforts are needed to build an equal education system. Knowing that the Constitution begins by demanding “human dignity, the achievement of equality and the advancement of human rights and freedoms” we cannot and will not pause until this is achieved.
UNEQUAL SCHOOLS, UNEQUAL SOCIETY
- EE members know that the educational inequality we are fighting against is not just about failures of government, although we know that corruption and mismanagement rob us of billions of rands every year. It also about South Africa’s history of racist exploitation and the unfair way in which the production and distribution of wealth is still organised here and all over the world. This affects our education in many ways that people living in wealthy communities can never experience.
- Many of our parents cannot find work; those who have work are underpaid. Apartheid denied them their education and opportunities to claim an equal share in our country’s wealth because of the colour of their skin. Many are exploited by labour brokers as casual workers who are prevented from organising properly, denied pension and provident funds and aren’t paid a living wage. These jobs mean long hours away from home; while our parents travel long distances on unsafe, unreliable public transport, we are often left alone with the responsibility of cooking, cleaning, washing and looking after younger siblings. Many of us return home to empty houses and care for our brothers and sisters until our parents come home late at night. We get very little assistance with homework because our parents cannot be there.
- This inequality in society also means that our schools have less money than schools in rich areas. Parents in these areas can afford to pay school fees, while parents in our schools mostly cannot. These funds are used to pay teachers more, to ensure that sanitation and security infrastructure is maintained, to stock libraries, labs and computer centres, and to provide quality sports and cultural programmes for learners at those schools. This means that most of the best teachers end up at these rich schools; there is no plan from the provincial or national education departments to help bring the best teachers to schools in townships and rural areas.
- This economic inequality in our society plays a huge role in undermining our right to a quality education. It also entrenches inequality between races – it ensures that white privilege will exist in South Africa for many years to come.
QUALITY, EQUALITY AND EQUITY NOW!
- We know that there must be huge struggles ahead if we are going to change this reality. To achieve equality and quality, teachers must be dedicated to change through hard work in and beyond the classroom. Parents must be aware of the problems schools face and join the fight for quality and equal schools. Learners must be at the very front of these struggles.
- Most importantly of all, real equality in education requires commitment, leadership and strength on the part of our government. If decades of deliberately unequal resource allocation and centuries of racial oppression will ever be reversed, government must commit to far greater educational investment in township and rural schools. It is not good enough to provide all schools with equal resource allocations; township and rural schools require extra investment to provide learners with a quality education. That is why EE members call for Quality, Equality and Equity in the education system.
- In addition, government must commit to eradicating corruption at every level of the education system and building capacity to ensure that provincial departments can spend their budgets effectively. Every year learners in South Africa lose out on billions of rands of investment in their education because of these failures. We look forward to working with government however we can to achieve this.
EQUAL EDUCATION’S DEMANDS
- Quality School Infrastructure
- Dignified Sanitation
- Computer Centres, Libraries and Labs For All
- Quality Teaching and Textbooks
- An End to Corporal Punishment
- Justice for Pregnant Learners
- Access to Condoms and Sex Education
- Sport and After-School Programmes
- Safe Schools
EQUAL EDUCATION’S DEMANDS BY 30 NOVEMBER 2014
- The Western Cape Education Department (WCED) must make public, or provide EE, with the Western Cape’s plan for implementation of the Minimum Norms and Standards for School Infrastructure, by 30 November 2014.
- MEC Schafer, we ask that you undertake a process of meaningful engagement, with a forum of youth and parents from poor communities, including learner and parent members of EE, to discuss how educational inequality can be overcome. We ask that you convene this early in the new year. We know that overcoming educational inequality is an enormous challenge but we insist that you engage openly and directly with our members, and the public, in a mutually-respectful and constructive manner, with a view to developing a plan or charter for achieving this in the province. We ask that you respond to this request by 30 November 2014.
Thank you for reading this memorandum. We look forward to your response and to engaging meaningfully with you.
QUALITY, EQUALITY AND EQUITY NOW!