22 October 2018
Media statement: UN Committee calls SA government to action on basic education
Equal Education (EE) and Equal Education Law Centre (EELC) welcome the recommendations of the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which has called on the South African government to intensify its efforts to, among others: improve school infrastructure, reduce school dropout rates, prevent discrimination related to school fees, improve access to education for learners with disabilities, and hold private actors in education to account.
The recommendations follow a process of reporting by South Africa to the Committee with inputs from civil society, including EE and EELC. This is the first time that South Africa has reported to the Committee after the country’s ratification of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in 2015. South Africa’s ratification binds it to the provisions of the Covenant, including regular reporting on measures and progress toward full realisation of these rights.
EE and EELC submitted a joint shadow report highlighting specific challenges learners face in accessing basic education, and presented on these before the Committee earlier this month. We now welcome the Committee’s concluding observations and recommendations, which require the government to address many of the issues EE and EELC raised in its shadow report.
Withdrawal of declaration
Significantly, the Committee raises its concern about the declaration South Africa made when it ratified the Covenant, which would allow government to progressively realise the right to basic education, within available resources. In line with EE and EELC’s submissions, the Committee has recommended that government withdraw this declaration, which will ensure that the realisation of the right to basic education remains immediately realisable, as stated in the South African Constitution.
School infrastructure provisioning
The Committee also highlights its concern over the poor state of public school infrastructure in South Africa, noting those schools that have no, or limited access to water, sanitation and electricity due to budget cuts or financial mismanagement. In light of this, the Committee recommends that the government intensify its efforts to improve school infrastructure and provide basic services by allocating sufficient funding and effectively managing its money.
Fees as a barrier to quality education and regulation of private actors
The Committee further recommends, among others, that the government ensure that fees are not a barrier to education, that it improves the regulation of private actors in education, and that it guarantees high quality early education for all children, especially those from disadvantaged families.
Learners with disabilities and migrant learners
Importantly, the Committee also makes strong recommendations concerning children with disabilities. In particular, the Committee calls for the immediate roll-out of the no-fee school programme to State-run schools for children with disabilities who cannot be accommodated in mainstream schools. The Committee also recommends that inclusive education be a guiding principle in all education plans and programmes, and requests that all migrant, refugee, and asylum-seeking children should have access to education regardless of their immigration status.
The Committee’s recommendations speak to a number of the toughest barriers learners face in accessing education and which, if addressed, can help ensure that equal access to basic education becomes a reality for all learners in South Africa. Civil society must take up this call to monitor and evaluate the government’s response to these recommendations, and hold it accountable for the steps it will take. In this way, civil society, together with international bodies, can play an active part in advancing the right to education in South Africa.
For further media comment:
Hopolang Selebalo (Co-Head of Research)
Roné McFarlane (Co-Head of Research)
Equal Education Law Centre: