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Equal Education commemorates World Toilet Day

19 November 2015


On the 19th November 2013, Equal Education released the sanitation conditions of Tembisa High School in commemoration of World Toilet Day . This Campaign aimed at improving the sanitation conditions at schools in Gauteng (access the full report here). We welcome efforts by the Gauteng Department of Education and our members who are learners at most of these schools as well as teachers for their actions in reporting and improving infrastructure conditions at their schools.


‘More than 100 learners share one toilet’


In our first audit released on World Toilet Day in 2013 we found that it was a “normality” in more than half of Tembisa schools for 100 or more learners to be sharing one toilet, this being more than twice the recommended amount set out by the Minimum Norms and Standards for School Infrastructure published the same year. Some schools reported zero functional toilets on some days whilst no learners reported having regular access to toilet paper or soap at any of the schools. Furthermore there existed a lack of provision of sanitary pads and places for their disposal, all of which posing a serious risk to the health of our learners.


Social Audit on Gauteng school infrastructure


On World Toilet Day 2014 Equal Education released a report covering all Tembisa schools and although there had been some improvement not enough was being done.  We have since made significant gains in holding the Gauteng Department of Education to account for the dire sanitation conditions of many schools in Gauteng.  A key move by Equal Education was a province wide social audit that looked at the infrastructure conditions of schools where more than 200 schools were audited and presented the following at a summit hosted in Soweto:


  • Over 100 learners per working toilet: At about 30% of high schools we audited, more than 100 learners share a single working toilet. By comparison, according to the Wits Justice Project, 65 men share a single toilet at the unacceptably overcrowded Johannesburg Medium A prison
  • Broken toilets: One out of every five school toilets is locked or broken
  • No soap, toilet paper or sanitary pads: Nearly 70% of learners do not have soap in their schools while more than 40% of learners do not have any access to toilet paper or sanitary pads in their schools. This problem is particularly acute in secondary schools, where funds are stretched due to overcrowding
  • Not enough maintenance staff: Over a quarter of schools have over 400 learners for one single maintenance personnel. Maintenance staff are overwhelmed at schools

The Summit marked an important moment when learners and communities could directly hold the Gauteng Department of Education accountable for its shortfalls in providing adequate sanitation to learners at school. In response to the Social Audit the department made sweeping promises to fix the state of infrastructure at schools and promised to deal urgently with the demands made.


Immediate intervention programme


The GDE developed an immediate intervention programme to deal with the refurbishment of 471 schools in Gauteng.  These schools included “The 50 Worst Schools” that were identified and were scheduled to be completed by the 30th of July 2015. In addition to the 50 schools, 200 Schools were earmarked for completion by the deadline of the 30th of August 2015. This was lastly joined by the remaining 221 Schools earmarked for Completion by the 30th of September 2015. Equal Education had on a number of occasions requested preliminary reports from GDE but each time were met with broken promises or deafening silence.

Equal Education therefore resorted to conducting random audits at 17 of the schools that were promised upgrades. All of the schools on the list have had contractors building everything from toilet blocks, new classrooms to the major refurbishment of the existing infrastructure.


Matriculants favoured


Although we welcome these improvements around the province it would seem according to numerous concerns noted in the surveys, that the new infrastructure has been directed mainly towards the matric classes. In some schools it was noted that only Matric classrooms had been upgraded, matric only toilet blocks installed, and a variety of other matric only features like smartboards and tablets have been provided. Although the work done thus far by the GDE is commendable, this raises concerns with regards to the development and resource allocation for lower grades.

Equal Education members conducted random surveys of 17 schools that had been promised upgrades:


  • All 17 schools reported work being done in terms of the fixing of toilets and the addition of new toilet blocks, however 15 of the 17 schools indicated that matric classrooms and toilets had been prioritized.
  • 1 out of 3 schools reported an improvement in access to soap and toilet paper since May however only 1 school reported that there was improved access to sanitary pads. This is concerning considering the promised role out of dignity packs across the province.
  • All 17 schools reported that windows have been fixed although it must be stressed there are still broken windows in 10 of the 17 schools.
  • 1 of the 17 schools had received new library books however 6 of the schools still have NO access to a functioning library.
  • Although 3 of the 17 schools have received upgraded fences, all 17 schools are still considered unsafe by the learners.
  • Half of the schools surveyed do not have access to internet. The other half all reported difficulties with accessing it.


School learner drop-out rates


In addition to the information gathered on infrastructure improvements it was worrying to note the learner dropout rates reported at the school since May.

  • 366 learners have dropped out since May at the 17 schools combined with only 4 schools reporting zero dropouts.


EE had advocated for a systemic approach to fixing sanitation facilities in overcrowded township schools in Gauteng.


Equal Education therefore demands:


  • A full and comprehensive report detailing all level of work and refurbishment done by the GDE on the identified 471 schools as well as the individual contracts for each contractor.
  • A release of Provincial Norms and Standards for Gauteng Sanitation Facilities for all schools in Gauteng as suggested by the Gauteng Department of Education’s own research team.
  • Provision of specific funds aimed towards the maintenance of the sanitation facilities in Gauteng school.
  • The provision of a list detailing all schools receiving dignity packs within the Province.
  • An evaluation or preliminary report on the effectiveness of the paperless classrooms.


EE intends to hold MEC and the department accountable on promises made towards the continued development and improvement of the quality of school infrastructure and sanitation facilities in Gauteng schools.


For more information contact:


Zandile Ngubeni, Head Equal Education (Gauteng): 072 684 4272

Angela Bukenya, Deputy Head Equal Education (Gauteng): 083 733 7032

Carla GoldsteinEqual Education commemorates World Toilet Day