Equal Education (EE) is a youth-led mass democratic movement of learners, post-school youth, parents, teachers and community members who use mobilisation and public action, supported by careful research, to empower young activists and ensure equality in South African education.
In 2018, our movement celebrated its 10th year of organising. Over these 10 years, we have managed to put education on the national agenda, mobilise young people who are directly affected by education challenges, and become one of the leading grassroots voices on education-related matters in the country.
EE members have marched, written letters, held night vigils, met with government officials and public representatives, advocated in the media, made submissions to Parliament and, where necessary, taken legal action with the assistance of the Equal Education Law Centre (EELC), to deliver major victories for learners across South Africa.
We have won tangible victories in schools, securing: school infrastructure regulations, billions in government funding for infrastructure, a scholar transport policy and scholar transport to over 3 000 learners. We have defended the rights of students who faced exclusionary policies, and been instrumental to the reform of feeder zone policies which entrench segregation. We have prevented schools being unlawfully closed, and worked towards schools remaining democratic and inclusive spaces when new school policies are introduced. We have campaigned and secured improvements to countless specific schools across South Africa.
Recognising the intersectionality of socio-economic rights, we have also joined and contributed to social justice struggles beyond education, allowing us to defend hard-won democratic and constitutional gains.
A democratic movement, EE’s National Council (made up of learners, parents, post-school youth, and experienced activists along with our General Secretary and Deputy General Secretary) are elected at our national Congress, held every three years.
EE organises learners in public schools in Gauteng, Limpopo, KwaZulu-Natal, the Eastern Cape, and the Western Cape. This is done through what we call Youth group. Youth group is comprised of high school learners, known as Equalisers, who meet each week. The weekly meetings provide the regular contact Equalisers need to shape and influence the movement. In youth group, Equalisers learn the content, values, discipline and self-confidence necessary for their intellectual, political and leadership development. Specifically, Youth group programming is designed to encourage Equalisers to think critically about our education system, society, law and policy, and ultimately provide insight and guidance for the political direction of EE. The content of Youth groups include reading historical texts, discussing current affairs, learning about how the education system works, or planning a specific action to address an educational problem in a school.
Youth group meetings are predominately facilitated by former Equalisers who have graduated to being Facilitators. This model allows Equalisers to learn from and with young leaders who have been trained in the movement and are from their respective areas. Equalisers are in turn able to serve as role-models to their peers and to be agents of change in their schools.
Youth group is the foundation of EE’s ability to develop and mobilise young activist leaders committed to fighting educational inequality.
In addition to learner, EE also organises parents in Gauteng and the Western Cape. Equal Education’s parent branches strive to mobilise parents to become involved in their children’s education, and to equip parents with the necessary skills they need to do this. This includes knowing their children’s educational rights and insisting that they are upheld, as well as providing their children with the support and guidance they need to make a success of their education. Parent members aim to play a positive role in their children’s education by taking the initiative by being directly involved in their children’s schooling, by serving on school governing bodies, or starting clean-up and restoration projects at schools. EE parent members hold regular meetings after work and on weekends. Discussions focus on how parents can get involved in assisting their children’s school and involve themselves in EE’s campaigns. The door-to-door campaigning by parent members plays a crucial role in explaining EE’s campaigns to their communities.
Equal Education attends briefings between the Department of Basic Education and various portfolio committees in Parliament. In setting a best practice model, our parliamentary and advocacy office is effective in tracking education policy changes, budgets, and in building relationships with government and parliamentary officials. The material gathered from these briefings is used to inform research in our Policy and Training Department.
We also lobby members of Parliament from various portfolio committees and across party lines in order to garner support for our campaigns and research. Through this direct interaction with members of Parliament, we are able to acquire extensive information through lobbying. Furthermore, any questions that EE may have and cannot attain directly from the department of education can usually be accessed through a member of Parliament. This engagement strengthens Parliament’s ability to hold the executive branch of government to account.
EE has begun to focus more on provincial legislatures, particularly the Western Cape, where there are numerous challenges with regard to education and school infrastructure.
Amazwi Wethu – “Our Voices” in isiXhosa – was Equal Education’s youth film training programme, which came to an end in 2017. Amazwi Wethu taught Equalisers documentary film, photography and editing skills, while also promoting media literacy. Equalisers become critically conscious producers and consumers of film as they learn how to utilise media in their activism.
Media advocacy can be a powerful tool to amplify young peoples’ voices in a digitising global community. The Equalisers took complete ownership of the production and editing process, empowering them to share their voices in their movement for quality and equality in South African education.
The content that has been produced by the Amazwi Wethu Equalisers not only stands as testament to their developing technical skills, but also supports EE’s work to educate and mobilise members of the community through screenings and seminars.
While the Amazwi Wethu programme has come to an end, the films are available on Equal Education’s YouTube channel. Screenings of the films are announced on Twitter and Facebook.OUR MOVEMENT