1 August 2022
Media statement: EE and EELC make a written submission on the DBE’s proposed changes to the school infrastructure law, urging it not to scrap the urgency and accountability needed for fixing our schools!
“I want my daughter to get a dignified education as anyone should. The law affects me because I, as a parent, want something to hold the government accountable in ensuring equal and fair education for everyone.” – Community member from Dimbaza, Eastern Cape.
Equal Education (EE) and Equal Education Law Centre (EELC) have made a joint written submission to the Department of Basic Education (DBE) on its drastic and unacceptable proposed changes to the school infrastructure law. The draft amendments to the Minimum Uniform Norms and Standards for Public School Infrastructure (the school infrastructure law) were quietly published in the Government Gazette on 10 June 2022. Our submission includes individual comments on the draft amendments from EE members (learners and parents).
There has been progress in government’s delivery of safe and decent school infrastructure since Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga adopted the school infrastructure law in 2013. However, progress has been painfully slow, with far too many schools still having pit toilets, overcrowded classrooms, and buildings that are falling apart.
After we got the school infrastructure law adopted, we then tried negotiating with the DBE to fix some gaps in it. In 2018, we returned to court to get Minister Motshekga to fix these gaps. EELC represented EE in that court case, which we won (read about the case here and the judgment here). When the DBE finally released the draft amendments in response to the judgment, we were shocked to see that the proposed changes will remove the parts of the law that demand accountability and urgency.
Read the full EE and EELC submission to the DBE here.
Main concerns in our submission
The DBE’s initial closing date for feedback from the public on its proposed changes was 10 July 2022. The closing date was only changed to 31 July 2022 after EE and EELC called the DBE out for not informing the public (including school communities) of the publication of the document. EE and EELC wrote two letters of concern to the DBE. Our second letter was written alongside five other organisations. Following these letters and public outcry, the DBE put the draft amendments on its website and on its social media. We remain concerned that the public’s participation in this process has been superficial.
Because the DBE delayed making the public aware of the draft amendments, EE staff and members went into various communities to explain them and to encourage people to make submissions. EE also developed a submission guide and template for the public to use.
These four key issues are included in our submission to the DBE:
- The wording and format of the document
The way the draft amendments are written is confusing. It is unclear what is being changed or replaced in the current law. Added to this, the draft amendments are only available in English. This makes it difficult for learners, parents and teachers to understand, and give their feedback on the changes that will drastically impact them. This stifles meaningful public participation. EE and EELC have recommended that the DBE publish a user-friendly version for a more meaningful public consultation.
- Scrapping of crucial infrastructure delivery deadlines
The proposed changes to the school infrastructure law remove crucial deadlines – the 2016, 2020, 2023 and 2030 deadlines. These deadlines ensure urgency for providing safe and proper school facilities and make it possible for school communities to hold the DBE and provincial education departments accountable. Removing these deadlines will be terrible for learners and teachers who face dangerous school infrastructure daily. EE and EELC strongly reject the scrapping of the deadlines. The DBE and provincial education departments must show more commitment to meeting the deadlines – including the 2016 and 2020 deadlines. Without these deadlines, government will take however long it wants to fix and build new schools.
- Provincial reporting requirement guidelines
While we are happy with the proposed change to make the reports on provincial school project progress available to the public, we are deeply worried about the DBE wanting to remove important guidance on the details that must be in the reports. The law currently requires provinces to include certain information in their annual project plans and progress reports to the DBE. This information includes existing backlogs, the cost involved in reducing these backlogs, plans for building new schools, and plans for the upgrading and maintenance work for existing schools. Scrapping these guidelines means that provinces can decide what and how much information to make available to the public. The reports must help school communities to monitor the work that provincial education departments do.
- Escape clause
One of the reasons that we went to court in 2018 was to get what we called the “escape clause” removed from the school infrastructure law. The escape clause says that our schools can only be fixed if there is cooperation and resources from other parts of government (such as the Treasury) or Eskom. The court agreed with us and said that the escape clause in the law must be removed. However, the DBE’s proposed change is not fully in line with what the court said. The DBE is still trying to avoid being held accountable by keeping the wording in the law that says that the DBE must “as far as practicable” (as far as possible) make sure that the different parts of government play their part in delivering school infrastructure. In our submission, we ask the DBE to remove the phrase “as far as practicable” from the law, to fully comply with the court order.
The current school infrastructure law, with clear deadlines for infrastructure delivery, is crucial for fulfilling the right to quality education. Any changes made to the law must take us forward, not backward. The DBE’s proposed changes remove all the measures that are important for monitoring government’s performance, and for accountability. These measures are vital for schools to claim the right that learners are entitled to right now, not sometime in the future! EE and EELC strongly urge the DBE to adopt the recommendations in our submission, and not abandon its legal and moral duties.