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Equal Education: 2018 Year in Review

5 December 2018

Equal Education: A Year in Review

This note is intended to assist journalists who are working toward 2018 year-in-review articles or broadcasts, related to education in South Africa.

As 2018 draws to a close, Equal Education (EE) reflects on a year where significant progress was made in our core objectives of advancing quality and equal education for all South Africans. Organisationally, there were deep challenges, and we have publicly committed to writing about those in substance. This note however focuses on the advances in advocacy and activism led by over 6 000 high school-going young people – Equalisers – in 150 schools from five different provinces.

Scholar transport delivered to 12 schools in Nquthu, KZN – April 2018

After four years of relentless campaigning and learner activism, and an out of court settlement with the Kwazulu-Natal Education Department, buses and taxis were delivered to 12 schools in Nquthu in northern Kwazulu-Natal. This meant that the provincial government was compelled to put R30 million toward ending the #LongWalkToSchool for approximately 3 000 learners. Our work now is to secure a conditional grant to fund safe and reliable scholar transport for all learners in South Africa who need it.

Eastern Cape schools that we refused to forget begin to see infrastructure improvement – May 2018

In November 2016, we released our Planning to Fail report, that documents the poor state of infrastructure in 60 Eastern Cape schools. In May 2018, we visited seven of those schools detailed in our report. We found that there were infrastructure upgrades at six out of the seven schools in 2017, ranging from new toilets, new classrooms, electricity, and piped water, to construction of an entirely new school finally being finished. In October this year, ventilated improved pit latrines were built at another one of the 60 schools in our report – where the caretaker had sunk into a two-metre deep pit of mud and human waste in 2015. School visits, and calls to fix the schools in our Planning to Fail report, continue.

Norms and Standards court victory – July 2018

Judgment was finally delivered in our #FixTheNorms case. The judgment affirmed that all the organs of of government are collectively responsible for implementing the Norms and Standards for School Infrastructure; it widened the definition of inappropriately built schools that need immediate attention from government; and the judgment also ensured that the Department of Basic Education (DBE) makes school infrastructure progress reports public every year. The judgment affirmed all EE’s legal arguments, supported by five years of EE members’ activism and the Equal Education Law Centre. Despite this, the DBE and all the provincial education departments decided to appeal the judgment.

President Cyril Ramaphosa announces school safety as top government priority – September 2018

Since 2015 we have doggedly campaigned for school safety, specifically in the Western Cape. In 2016 we published a social audit, detailing various safety issues that plague Western Cape schools. At the start of this year, we interrupted President Cyril Ramaphosa’s Thuma Mina walk in Khayelitsha, handing him a copy of our social audit, and demanding that he intervene on the issue of school safety. In August, the Presidency announced school safety as one of its top priorities – particularly noting the importance of ensuring coordination between the South African Police Services and provincial education departments. He has since clarified this in more detail to Parliament. In October, the DBE convened an urgent Safety Summit – with government officials, unions and civil society – to strategise on how to end school violence. Our #SafeSchools campaign also prompted the Western Cape Education Department to identify school safety as a key priority. This demonstrates the power of direct, peaceful but confrontational activism.

Menstrual hygiene products to be made available in schools – October 2018

EE, working with a coalition of different organisations, has for a long time highlighted the impact that poor sanitation and a lack of access to menstrual hygiene products has on the ability of girl learners to access quality education. We highlighted this with our social audit report in 2015; a small survey in 2016; and a colloquium in 2017 at which we called on government to make menstrual hygiene products available to learners. In October this year, Finance Minister Tito Mboweni announced the allocation of funds to do exactly that. We will keep up the pressure on Treasury and the other relevant government departments to ensure that the money allocated is actually spent on this priority.

UN Committee calls SA government to action on basic education – October 2018

EE and Equal Education Law Centre (EELC) made a joint written submission, and presented, on South Africa’s progress towards realising the right to basic education to the Geneva-based UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. We highlighted the vulnerability of undocumented learners, the state of school infrastructure and scholar transport in South Africa, the lack of a menstrual hygiene policy for learners, and school fees as barriers to education. EE and EELC recommended that an adequate legal framework is put in place to hold private actors in education accountable to human rights standards. In its final report, the Committee took on board almost all of EE and EELC’s recommendations. The Committee’s report is now a powerful tool in the hands of civil society to hold the South African government to account.

Constitutional Court refuses to hear government’s appeal of Norms and Standards judgment – October 2018

Following government’s ill-conceived, financially wasteful decision to appeal the #FixTheNorms judgment, we launched our #StopTheAppeal campaign, with our leadership silently protesting during a speech by President Cyril Ramaphosa at the launch of the SAFE Initiative. This was immortalised in two cartoons and was reported on in the New York Times. EE members took to the streets in three provinces demanding that the Education MECs #StopTheAppeal, and petitioned the public. On 29 October, the Constitutional Court refused to hear that appeal, saying “it bears no prospects of success”. There are no more excuses to not #FixOurSchools.

Teaching is not declared an essential service – November 2018

EE has consistently supported the right of teachers to organise, in order to improve their working conditions. We made a submission Education is essential, but not an essential service in June this year to the Department of Labour’s Essential Services Committee to motivate why teaching should not be declared an essential service. As did teachers’ unions and other civil society groups. The Committee released its report in November, agreeing with EE’s position and finding that teaching should not be declared an essential service – a victory for teachers.

Gauteng Education Department (GDE) confirms expanded feeder zones – November 2018

Rigid school feeder zones reinforce inequality in education by restricting poor and working class learners to access only the schools nearest to their homes – schools that are still under-resourced and poorer performing. Following a Constitutional Court judgment in 2016, in which EE made arguments regarding the problems with the previous Gauteng feeder zone policy, EE became an official observer of a GDE Task Team looking into reforming the policy. After two years of deliberations, Gauteng Education MEC Panyaza Lesufi answered EE’s call for reform. He announced expanding the zones from 5km to 30km, and that geographical and spatial transformation must be considered when determining feeder zones –  decisively addressing the effect of apartheid spatial planning on accessing quality education.

Children’s right to protest affirmed – November 2018

We joined the #SJC10 right to protest case as a friend of the court, arguing that the criminalisation of protest is dangerous to children, and that children’s #Right2Protest must be affirmed. The case went before the Constitutional Court, which in November ruled in favour of the Social Justice Coalition and EE by decriminalising the right to protest. The judgment noted: “In particular, it must be emphasised that for children, who cannot vote, assembling, demonstrating and picketing are integral to their involvement in the political process. By virtue of their unique station in life the importance of the section 17 right [the right to protest] has special significance for children who have no other realistic means of expressing their frustrations”.

Eastern Cape Department of Education (ECDoE) makes commitments on Implementing Agents (IAs) – November 2018

We’ve spent two years researching the role of IAs in the building of schools. Our new report Implementing Agents: The Middlemen in Charge of Building Schools explains how effective they are, and makes recommendations for holding them accountable. Last month we met with the Head of the Eastern Cape Education Department, Themba Kojana, and he accepted all of EE’s recommendations including: creating guidelines for appointing IAs; making information about the performance of IAs publicly accessible; and ensuring that underperforming contractors are blacklisted by National Treasury. Kojana committed to giving us an action plan for implementing our recommendations, at our next quarterly meeting with the Department and IAs in 2019.

Gauteng sanitation audit review shows sanitation improvements – November 2018

In 2015, EE members got Gauteng Education MEC Panyaza Lesufi to pledge to improve school sanitation facilities across the province, following our social audit. We’ve carefully monitored his commitment since then. Last month, we released our new report Breaking the Cycle which shows that the toilets in all 38 schools that we visited were repaired or renovated. The work done included painting, fixing pipes, fixing ceilings, repairing windows, installing burglar bars, and replacing basins, doors, locks on doors, taps, toilet seats, and urinals. For the full benefits of these victories to materialise, the Department must put in place systemic measures to ensure that infrastructure upgrades are of good quality, and are maintained once construction is complete. While we are ensuring that MEC Lesufi must deliver more than the bare minimum, the evidence revealed the power of analysis and activism.

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Leanne Jansen-ThomasEqual Education: 2018 Year in Review