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Media statement: Equal Education to march for education justice and the prioritisation of an education system that empowers every learner ahead of the national elections

8 May 2024 

Media statement: Equal Education to march for education justice and the prioritisation of an education system that empowers every learner ahead of the national elections 

#YouthPowerBeyondTheBallot

On Friday 10 May 2024, Equal Education (EE) Equalisers (learner members of EE) will lead a march to Parliament to demand the prioritisation and realisation of equal and quality education for all learners in the lead-up to the national elections. This is a call to action from learners—who are under 18 —to actively participate in democracy and voice their concerns and aspirations for basic education. In this important political moment, learners will raise their voices and re-state their demands to the current government and to those who aspire to hold roles in the new government. This is a reminder of their duty to take action, protect the constitutional rights of all learners and lead this democracy based on the will of the people. 

Thirty years into democracy, our education system remains grossly unequal, with countless, predominantly black learners—particularly in rural and township schools—perpetually struggling to access quality education and forced to learn in overburdened, undignified and dangerous schooling environments. As a nation preparing for elections, we cannot afford to neglect the widespread and devastating issues affecting the basic education sector. The present state of education demands spirited collective action and the political urgency of government—in fulfilling their constitutional obligations towards learners—to secure a better future for our country.

At the march, Equalisers will hand over a memorandum addressed to President Cyril Ramaphosa, Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga, Finance Minister Enoch Godongwana, the MECs of five provincial education departments (PEDs), the Premier of the Western Cape, and several political parties. This memorandum will articulate the priorities and demands we have set out for the current and incoming government as we work towards an equal and just education for all learners. We demand that government address the following: 

  • Education funding – Austerity measures are further depriving learners of their right to education. When taking inflation into account, per-learner spending on basic education has decreased every year since 2019, robbing learners of adequate infrastructure, sufficient teachers, learner transport, and other critical resources. Addressing these difficult conditions requires a concerted effort to prioritise education spending, implement progressive policies, and ensure that all children have equal access to quality learning opportunities, regardless of their socio-economic status. It also requires that deliberate action is taken to root out corruption from the system; this means a commitment to transparency and accountability, so that every cent spent on basic education reaches its intended beneficiaries.
  • The national school infrastructure crisis – It has been more than a decade since the Minimum Uniform Norms and Standards for Public School Infrastructure (school infrastructure law) was made into law. Yet, thousands of schools across the country still do not meet the basic requirements of a dignified learning environment. While the Department of Basic Education (DBE) and PEDs fail to meet these legal deadlines, learners risk their lives daily attending schools with dangerous plain pit toilets, overcrowded and dilapidated classrooms, unreliable water supplies, and no libraries, science labs, or sports facilities. EE demands the immediate intervention of all political leaders to direct that relevant departmental officials ensure that education infrastructure is provided urgently and transparently.
  • Procurement and implementing agents – PEDs appoint implementing agents (IAs) as middlemen to oversee the delivery of large infrastructure projects. These procurement processes have been fraught with problems of financial mismanagement, corruption, slow delivery, and failed consequence management. The money that is spent is wasted and the conditions in our schools remain the same. EE demands that PEDs commit to systems for transparency and strong oversight over procurement processes, particularly where IAs are involved. 
  • Overcrowding in schools – Overcrowding in under-resourced schools deeply impacts the quality of education as well as the attitude, attendance, and motivation of learners and teachers. EE members have campaigned for schools to be equitably resourced so that more schools and classrooms are built, sufficient teachers are employed, and class sizes are reduced. EE demands that PEDs adopt proactive plans that address the growing crisis of overcrowded schools across the country.
  • The school admissions crisis – Every year sees a predictable increase in enrolment numbers in schools—particularly in the Western Cape and Gauteng—yet parents and caregivers are often left scrambling for places even after the school year has started for various reasons beyond their control. For years, EE has highlighted the systemic factors that contribute to learners not being placed in school on time, including that parents and caregivers face challenges with the online system from the onset of the application process. These learners are denied their basic right to education. EE demands that political leadership and education MECs do what it takes to ensure that every learner is placed in a suitable school with enough teachers and infrastructure for all the learners in their provinces. 
  • The safety of learners – Many learners are not safe in their schools. Threats to school safety manifest in various forms. Learners are exposed to trauma, violence, and insecurity, compromising their constitutional rights to basic education, equality, life, dignity, security, and access to essential healthcare and social services. For 10 years, Equalisers have campaigned for safe schools and have identified four pillars of school safety that require the government’s urgent attention: physical security infrastructure in line with the school infrastructure law, functional school safety committees, adequate psychosocial support, and knowledge and use of existing safety policies and interventions.
  • The reading crisis  – The 2021 Progress in International Reading Literacy Study results revealed that 81% of Grade 4 learners in South Africa cannot read for meaning in any language, including their home languages. Many learners, mostly in rural and township communities, attend schools that do not have the requisite teaching and learning resources that are fundamental to mastering foundational skills such as reading. Shockingly, as of August 2023, 70% of public schools do not have libraries, and a third of those that do, are not stocked. EE demands that the DBE provide every school with a library, as per the school infrastructure law. The November 2023 deadline to implement these changes has been missed, and the DBE must publish binding timelines for delivery and source adequate funding for this provision.
  • Education as a public good – As the public education system continues to battle unfavourable economic conditions amid Treasury’s austerity agenda, there is a growing dependence on private funding through school fees and donors, exacerbating the disparities between rich and poor schools. The prioritisation of private actor voices threatens the vision of democratic school governance, as is evident in the introduction of collaboration and donor-funded schools in the Western Cape. EE demands that education be upheld as a public good and that government, particularly the DBE and PEDs, prevent private interests from deepening existing education inequality. 

The demands of Equalisers are not born out of mere discontent, but rather from 16 years of youth led activism and a deep-seated commitment to a just and inclusive education system that empowers every learner and serves as a catalyst for social transformation. These demands are rooted in the principles of justice, equity, transparency, and accountability. As we get ready to take our demands to Parliament, we call upon government to heed our collective call for the prioritisation of education! EE remains committed to building youth power beyond the ballot and to continue contributing to building state capacity. 

As we march, we carry in our spirits the millions of children who have been displaced, who have been out of formal schooling, who are food and water insecure and are mourning the loss of their families and communities. EE remains in solidarity with the children and young people of Palestine, Congo and Sudan. We call for a ceasefire in Palestine, for all nations to stop supporting Israel and for immediate humanitarian aid for our people, especially children and our mothers. EE continues to call for an end to the Israeli occupation in Palestine. We are not free until the children of Palestine, Congo and Sudan are free! 

Date: Friday 10 May 2024

Time: 2:00 pm 

Place: Keizersgracht Street to Parliament, Cape Town 

[END] 

To arrange an interview:

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

WhatsApp 083 890 8723 / Call 063 221 7983

Kimberley Khumalo (Equal Education Researcher) kimberely@equaleducation.org.za or Whatsapp/call 079 077 0590

Itumeleng Mothlabane (Equal Education Head of the Eastern Cape ) itu@equaleducation.org.za or Whatsapp /call 078 110 6428

 

Leanne Jansen-ThomasMedia statement: Equal Education to march for education justice and the prioritisation of an education system that empowers every learner ahead of the national elections