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Joint media statement: Equal Education and the Equal Education Law Centre head to court to ensure the immediate placement of all out-of-school learners in the Western Cape  

24 April 2024

Joint media statement: Equal Education and the Equal Education Law Centre head to court to ensure the immediate placement of all out-of-school learners in the Western Cape  

#SofundaSonke

Equal Education (EE) and the Equal Education Law Centre (EELC) will be heading to urgent court to ensure the immediate placement of all unplaced learners in the Western Cape. On 11 April 2024, EE together with five parents (the “applicants”) represented by the EELC, launched an urgent court application against the Western Cape Government and the Department of Basic Education (“respondents”) for the immediate placement of unplaced learners in schools in the Western Cape’s Metro East Education District.

Learner placement in the Western Cape remains a long-standing systemic issue that the Western Cape Education Department (WCED) continuously fail to adequately plan for. The 2024 academic year has continued along this trend, with EE and the EELC being flooded with queries from parents seeking support for the placement of their children in the Western Cape, particularly in the Metro East Education District. EE and the EELC have attempted to engage the department by writing letters, attending meetings, protesting, handing over memorandums and highlighting key recommendations through traditional and social media. However, all of these attempts have failed to result in significant change or an agreement by the department to plan better. Therefore, parents and caregivers along with EE and the EELC, have no other choice but to approach the courts to secure the placement of the many learners who, more than two weeks into the second school term, are still at home without access to education. 

“… the child’s mother had been job hunting for the past eight years. She eventually, in December 2023, received an offer for employment as a domestic worker in Johannesburg to start in the first week of January 2024. Considering that Ms Nokuthula was the only person who could take care of the child in the Eastern Cape, I had no other option but to take in the child to come and stay with me in Khayelitsha.” – Second applicant in the admissions matter

According to the WCED parents and caregivers who apply after the month-long online application period in the preceding year of placement are classified as late applicants – making up the bulk of the learners who remain unplaced after the school year starts. However, there is no clear policy or plan to address the challenges brought about by this, resulting in learners being out of the classroom for an unreasonable and unacceptable long period of time. Parents and caregivers have expressed that they are not negligent but that there are various unforeseeable socio-economic and circumstantial reasons for children being out of school, such as the death of a caregiver and being moved from a primary residence because of abuse. 

In May 2007, the child sadly lost his father. After his father’s passing, he had to live with his aunt, in Nyanga East, Cape Town. Soon thereafter, his aunt had to relocate to the Eastern Cape. The child’s grandfather had to take him into our family home in Khayelitsha, where we currently reside. At the time he was enrolled at Belgravia High School in Athlone. He had to use public transport to and from school which cost about R1150 per month. Each month was a struggle for my family to pay that money, but we had no other option – given the admission challenges we were already aware of, particularly in Khayelitsha and the surrounding areas. At the beginning of the 2024 academic year, I had to try to find a school closer to our home for the child.” – Sixth applicant in the admissions matter

They have also highlighted the inaccessibility of the online system. The majority of learners who continue to be affected by non-placement are black children from disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds. Non-access to education for these learners worsens the inequality in the Western Cape. Applying late does not mean that learners should lose their right to access education. 

Given that the WCED online application window had long since closed when the child came to live with me, between 15 January 2024 and 18 January 2024 I approached several schools in and around Khayelitsha to seek placement for the child for 2024. I was unfortunately not aware of the WCED’s late application procedure at the time, and consequently was not aware that I had to approach them to be assisted. I approached schools directly. I went to Manyano High School, Masiyile High School, Bulumko High School, Luhlaza High School and the Centre of Science and Technology. I and many other parents who visited the schools were not allowed to enter the school gates. We were informed the schools were all full and we would not be assisted.” – Fourth applicant in the admissions matter 

The court application brought by EE and the EELC is divided into two parts – part A being urgent and part B semi-urgent. 

  • In part A of the application, we are seeking an order for the placement of all out-of-school late applicant learners in the Western Cape, as well as for remedial and support plans for these learners in an attempt to ensure they meet the academic requirements for 2024. We are also asking that the Head of Department produce an investigative report on why the WCED has failed to place these learners. 
  • Part B of the application focuses on the WCED’s policy failure to address late applications and the extent to which it unfairly discriminates against late applicants based on race, poverty level, place of birth, and social origin. We are also asking the court to declare the WCED’s failure to timeously place late applicant learners in schools unconstitutional, and as a result, the WCED’s Admission policy and some of the WCED’s Admission policy circulars should be set aside because they permit late applicants to remain unplaced for an indefinite period, with no clarity on the way forward.

The WCED’s Admission policy’s failure to address late applications is a long-standing issue that directly affects learners. The WCED’s continuous failure to plan proactively for the timely placement of learners in schools threatens their immediately realisable right to access education. Sofunda sonke – no learner should be left behind!

[END]

To arrange a media interview, contact: 

Sesethu August (Equal Education Communications Officer) sesethu@equaleducation.org.za 

WhatsApp: 083 890 8723

Call: 063 221 7983

Leanne Jansen-ThomasJoint media statement: Equal Education and the Equal Education Law Centre head to court to ensure the immediate placement of all out-of-school learners in the Western Cape