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Education Activists Plead for Urgent School Improvements as Minister Faces Criticism

Education Activists Plead for Urgent School Improvements as Minister Faces Criticism

About 50 members of Equal Education (EE) gathered outside the Department of Basic Education in Pretoria last Friday, urging Minister Angie Motshekga to address longstanding issues with public school infrastructure. The demonstration, marked by placards reading “#FixOurSchoolsNow” and “10 years of broken promises,” spotlighted the unfulfilled commitments outlined in the minimum norms and standards for public school infrastructure set a decade ago.

The regulations, published in the Government Gazette under the South African Schools Act on November 29, 2013, were designed to improve school conditions, including the removal of pit latrines and the establishment of libraries in each school within ten years. However, Equal Education argues that progress has been insufficient, citing 728 schools still relying on pit latrines as of August 2023.

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Equal Education, supported by organizations such as the Equal Education Law Centre (EELC), SECTION27, the Legal Resources Centre (LRC), the Centre for Child Law, the Bookery, and Right2Protest, presented an open letter to Minister Motshekga. Unfortunately, the group encountered closed gates, with no department representatives engaging with them.

In the letter, the coalition called for the eradication of infrastructure backlogs to ensure safe and conducive learning environments. They also demanded sufficient funding for infrastructure and a nationwide audit of school infrastructure by the education department.

Equal Education’s deputy chairperson, Yonela Sewela, a grade 11 learner from Etwatwa, Benoni, emphasized the challenges faced by poorly maintained schools in the region. Overcrowded classrooms, makeshift structures, and even disruptions due to rainwater entering classrooms during storms were highlighted as ongoing problems affecting the quality of education.

The open letter underscored alarming statistics, revealing that 82% of schools lack laboratories, and 74% lack adequately stocked libraries. GroundUp had previously reported that the norms and standards’ goal of every school having a library by the end of November would be missed, according to an Education Facility Management System report from August 2021.

Moreover, draft amendments proposing the removal of timeframes and deadlines from the norms and standards have drawn condemnation from education activists, including Equal Education. Noncedo Madubedube, a representative from the organization, stated that they would request an action plan from the education department to address the missed deadlines and targets.

The call for urgent action resonates with broader concerns about the state of South Africa’s public education system, urging stakeholders to collaborate in ensuring that promises made a decade ago translate into tangible improvements in the nation’s schools.

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