Memorandum for Marches on 17 June 2013: Minimum Norms and Standards

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Organisations, clubs, schools, societies, libraries, student groups, churches, trade unions, social movements and all other formations are invited to sign this memorandum. E-mail to sign.





  1. We are marching on Youth Day for better schools. It is impossible to learn and to teach when there are 130 learners in a class. We have experienced this. It is impossible to learn and to teach when the roof may fall on your head. We have seen this. It is impossible to learn to love reading when there is no library with books. Most schools face this. It is impossible to concentrate when there is no water to drink all day at school. We have gone through this. It is impossible to respect school when our toilets don’t work and we feel undignified.


  1. For all these reasons we DEMAND final and binding, quality and serious, Minimum Norms and Standards for School Infrastructure NOW!


  1. After 20 broken promises we can no longer rely on promises. We need action. Nothing less will do.


  1. We won’t stop fighting for quality and equal education. We are the people that can create real and permanent change in our education system. Equal education is not something to wait for but to struggle for daily. We have already seen results and our campaign is only strengthening with time. Only through education can we achieve meaningful growth as a society and as individuals. According to Nelson Mandela “Education is the great engine of personal development. It is through education that the daughter of a peasant can become a doctor, that a son of a mineworker can become the head of the mine, that a child of farm workers can become the president of a great nation….” We see this fight as part of other struggles for equality and freedom, against inequality and exploitation, against racism and class divides, for employment and opportunity, in South Africa and across the world. Our fight will never cease until there is equal and quality education for every South African.


  1. Our campaign is one that seeks to realise and embrace the promises of the Freedom Charter that “all the cultural treasures of mankind shall be open to all, by free exchange of books, ideas and contact with other lands”. We see this fight as part of other struggles for equality and freedom, against inequality and exploitation, against racism and class divides, for employment and opportunity, in South Africa and across the world. We want the world described to us by our Charter in which “education shall be free, compulsory, universal and equal for all children…”. “Equality includes the full and equal enjoyment of all rights and freedoms” according to our Constitution and our right to education is no different. We all deserve quality education; it is our right.




  1. According to the South African government’s 2011 National Education Infrastructure Management System (NEIMS) report, out of 24 793 public ordinary schools:
  • 3 544 schools have no electricity
  • 2 402 schools lack a water supply and 2 611 have an unreliable one
  • 913 do not have ablution facilities and 11 450 are using pit latrine toilets
  • Only 8% have stocked school libraries
  • Only 5% have stocked laboratory facilities
  • Only 10% of schools have stocked computer centers


  1. The conditions of our schools are deplorable. We are in unsafe classrooms. We have no clean water or electricity. We do not have textbooks or libraries or computers. Conditions are worst in rural communities, although there are problems in schools everywhere. At least 400 of our schools are “mud schools” primarily composed of mud or prefabricated structures. Despite numerous promises to replace mud schools with permanent structures progress has been painfully slow. There are still hundreds of schools to build and there are thousands of us stuck in unacceptable conditions in the meantime.


  1. We know that school infrastructure is absolutely crucial because Professor Eric Hanushek has published research that examined two decades of studies on the impact of every different educational input and concluded that school infrastructure is one of the most important: “When the evidence is limited to the 43 high quality studies, only a few inputs appear to have unambiguous results. Perhaps the clearest finding is that having a fully functioning school – one with better quality roofs, walls or floors, with desks, tables and chairs, and with a school library – appears conducive to student learning.”


  1. Despite attempted remedies by our government, the problems persist. The Accelerated Schools Infrastructure Deliver Initiative (ASIDI) was supposed to build 100 schools by 1 April 2013. Instead only about 17 were finished, according to the Department of Basic Education. This is due to chronic under-spending by the Department on the mud schools project. According to budget reports during the 2011/2012 financial year the government only spent R76-million of the allocated R700-million. We now see the same problem again with reported under-spending of R1.8 billion in the third quarter of this financial year. This under-spending has led to money being taken from the project budget meaning fewer schools can be replaced on schedule. Sadly, it is us, the learners and teachers at these schools who must bear the consequences.


  1. We have seen with our own eyes the way that our poor school infrastructure hurts us as learners and teachers. The principal of Maceba High School, Mr. Sipho Mweli says “When it rains learning and teaching has to stop in half our classrooms because learners books and the desks get wet.” He continues “Learners and teachers also fear that the roof, which has holes in it, could blow off or collapse on them.” The principal of Meadowridge Primary School Mr. Norman Benjamin Daniels talks about the way inadequate toilets disrupt the school day, “The poor state of the toilets means that many of the learners do not go to the toilet all day which also then affects their concentration in class. It is also extremely unhygienic and we even had two separate cases where learners caught Hepatitus C from the toilets.”


  1. We have also read Professor Robin Wood’s research saying that learners are getting TB from unventilated overcrowded classrooms! We deserve better. Norms and standards will deem these things unacceptable and help us get the facilities we deserve.


  1. Uniform norms and standards are vital to achieving a quality education for us all. It is our constitutional right and our right as human beings to expect an equal education. Only when there is quality, equal education for all can we begin to deal with the legacy of the past that haunts our schools every day.


  1. Setting national minimum norms and standards will allow us to have clear expectations for every school. We can expect each school to have sufficient classrooms for every learner, safe water, electricity, a library, a laboratory, storage space, administrative space, a school hall, sports facilities, a staff room, acceptable toilets based on the school size, a playground and computer centre.


  1. With these uniform expectations comes accountability. We as a community can hold our local and national governments accountable for the facilities we have a right to have. The Minister and communities will be able to hold provincial governments to account. Norms and standards put the power in the hands of the community invested in their local schools, where it should be.


  1. The minister was forced to submit draft norms and standards as a result of the legal settlement with Equal Education. The draft was released on 15 January 2013 for public comment. They were not good enough. The draft standards failed to introduce any specific regulations and are vague on even the most basic of issues. They fail to address overcrowding, do not require electricity or safe drinking water in schools, and state only a library OR laboratory OR media centre is required in a school to name only a few failures. Any school in any state of disrepair can meet the draft standards because of the vague language. The draft requirements do nothing to set targets or provide a timeframe for action or even give basic directions to provincial governments. In the draft there is not even a plan for oversight to ensure any changes are actually made.


  1. We are not satisfied with this document. We want specific targets and requirements addressing the needs of our communities and schools. Without specific uniform national norms and standards our struggle for an equal education must continue.


  1. The Minister failed to meet her own deadline for promulgating final norms and standards of 15 May 2013. EE was left with no option but to return to court to reclaim our rights. We must continue the fight for norms and standards to obtain an equal education for all of our children.




  1. We face a harsh daily reality. The majority of us, the learners, South Africa’s future, lack the quality education that is necessary to thrive. This must change.


  1. Our parents can’t find work, or are underpaid. According to South Africa’s Quarterly Labour Force Survey, one in four South Africans lack a job and that number is only growing. That means our parents too often cannot provide for us. Over half of those unemployed are women, our mothers, who are the only breadwinners for our households. Many of them were denied their own education under Apartheid, trapping them in joblessness and poverty.


  1. For those of us with parents that are able to find work, their jobs often mean long hours away from home. Many are exploited by labour brokers, casualised, denied pension and provident funds, and not being paid a living wage.While they travel long distances to work we are left to wake, dress and travel to school alone. Often we are responsible for our younger siblings as well.


  1. After school we lack structured activities to occupy our time. Many of us return home to empty houses and care for our brothers and sisters until our parents come home late at night. We get very little assistance with homework because our parents cannot be there. Those not at home often end up on the streets exposed to gangs, violence and drugs.


  1. Our country faces the extreme burden of HIV. Many of us are affected by the disease and face social stigma. Our youth only makes the disease more challenging. Without an education we do not know how to best care for ourselves or access condoms to reduce the spread of HIV.


  1. We struggle with the inequality that can be found in every part of our lives. Some learners have schools with computers, books and desks. We should not have to learn in unsafe buildings without electricity or books because of where we live and go to school. We deserve the equal treatment that our parents fought for.


  1. When we get school assignments most of us lack the space or resources at home to work there. Instead we must travel great distances to use overcrowded public libraries. That travel is costly and can be dangerous. The libraries do their best, but often they struggle to provide for all the people that need to use them. Getting time to study is a real challenge.


  1. Our teachers work very hard to provide us with an education but they receive little outside help. They have classrooms crammed full of learners and lack adequate textbooks, desks and equipment. They may not have had access to the best education themselves. These conditions are hard and some of them lose their motivation. Some abuse us and are lazy but the majority deserve greater recognition for the challenging job they do. They need help with training and materials that allow them to be the best they can be. We also need a new generation of teachers with a better understanding of the subjects we are trying to cover.


  1. We have not given up. Despite these challenges, we know that we can achieve great things. We need an education that allows us to grow as learners and people. Our teachers and classmates do the best they can to help us in the classroom. We deserve equal education. A quality education is the key to breaking out of this cycle of poverty and inequality. We do not have to be another generation trapped by our harsh surroundings. Our future is bright.




  1. Equal Education (EE) is an organisation of learners, parents, teachers and concerned community members fighting for quality education for everyone in South Africa. It is based in Khayelitsha, but has branches in Limpopo, KZN, Eastern Cape and Tembisa. EE works through activism and campaigns that take learners and their parents into education policy creation. Community outreach and participation is vital to the struggle for equal education as well as ensuring that the needs of the communities are being met.


  1. EE’s first campaign in 2008 was focused on fixing school windows in a Khayelitsha high school. Through this campaign we realised the significance of school infrastructure in creating a place of learning and safety for our youth. After months of dedication to this project through pickets, pamphlets, meetings and negotiations the over 500 broken windows were fixed by the government. This victory inspired EE to attempt even greater change.


  1. A variety of campaigns have been led by EE including opening school libraries, obtaining textbooks for learners, stopping unfair school closures, combatting xenophobia, fighting for increased teacher pay, holding teachers accountable in numerous schools where we are active, pushing government to build new schools, protecting learners from discrimination, and stopping late-coming just to name a few. Throughout these campaigns we continued to recognise the need to improve access to quality education on a greater scale.




  1. EE has driven the Norms and Standards for School Infrastructure Campaign over the past years. We as learners and parents have marched, picketed, written letters to the Minister, petitioned the government, gone door-to-door and lobbied Parliament along with teachers. We have used the newspapers, radio and social media to spread the word. We are committed to receiving these regulations from the Minister to guarantee all of our learners a quality, equal education.


  1. In 2007, the Parliament amended the South African Schools Act to include S5A giving the Minister power to create regulations and set minimum norms and standards for school infrastructure. Despite past attempts, no Minister has yet promulgated these regulations.


  1. The Schools Act says “it is necessary to set uniform norms and standards for the education of learners at schools … throughout the Republic of South Africa.” Over the past four years Minister Motshekga has made 20 separate promises to promulgate regulations for binding norms and standards. Even after making such commitments in Parliament, and in national policy, the Minister has never delivered. In November 2012 the Minister signed a settlement agreement with EE promising Norms & Standards by 15 May 2013. The Minister is currently in breach. EE offered an extra month, but the Minister rejected this and demanded a further six. We must now return to the courts and the streets to secure our rights and a future.


  1. On 11 September 2009 the Minister told Parliament that Norms and Standards had been developed. The National Policy for an Equitable Provision of an Enabling School Physical Teaching and Learning Environment published in June 2010 promised binding Norms and Standards by 1 April 2011. This deadline was missed without explanation. After making 20 promises which never came true the Minister eventually changed her position entirely and said she was only creating guidelines.


  1. After these numerous frustrations it became clear EE would have to turn to the courts to get the Minister to create Norms and Standards for School Infrastructure desperately needed by learners across the country. On 2 March 2012, through the Legal Resources Centre (LRC), EE and two schools filed a case against the Minister, nine MECs for Education and the Minister of Finance asking for uniform Norms and Standards.


  1. On 19 November 2012, the Minister entered a settlement agreement with EE. According to that agreement she was required to publish a draft version of Norms and Standards for public comment by 15 January 2013 and finalise the regulations by 15 May 2013.


  1. The Minister has failed to stick to these settlement deadlines, even though they were suggested and signed by her! The 15th of May 2013 has passed without any formal regulations by the Minister being set. This means that inequality in our schools will only continue to be a daily struggle for the majority of South African learners. The Minister must fulfill her obligations to the people of South Africa. We are entitled to quality, equal education. Our struggle continues.


  1. We have now resubmitted the papers to the High Court in Bhisho and the case will be heard on 11 July 2013!


  1. We know that to reach our goals we must continue our fight as a group of learners, teachers, administrators and concerned community members. Teachers must be dedicated to change through hard work in and beyond the classroom. Learners must put forth effort to lead and make their voices heard in the struggle. Parents must be aware of the current problems and fight for better schools to enhance the futures of their children. Beyond this though, equality in education requires commitment, leadership and strength on the part of our government. We look forward to working with them to achieve safe, supportive, quality schools for all learners.




  1. The Minister must immediately publish final, binding, quality Minimum Norms and Standards for School Infrastructure.


  1. If she cannot do this immediately she must implement the 2008 Draft Minimum Norms and Standards which were drafted by Minister Naledi Pandor. These were reasonable, and could be implemented in the meanwhile.


  1. The Minister must convene an urgent meeting of provincial education departments to plan the implementation of final, binding, quality Minimum Norms and Standards for School Infrastructure. Treasury, National Planning and civil society should be involved.



Organisations, clubs, schools, societies, libraries, student groups, churches, trade unions, social movements and all other formations are invited to sign this memorandum. E-mail to sign.