Showdown looms between Motshekga and education activists

| Fergus Turner
Photo of Equal Education meeting by Fergus Turner.

Last night Equal Education held a public hearing in Cape Town to address the Minister of Basic Education’s draft document on the minimum norms and standards for schools. The organisation believes Minister Angie Motshekga’s draft is unsatisfactory.

The draft was produced in response to Equal Education’s two year campaign, demanding that such a policy document be prepared by the minister in order to pressure the Department of Education to address and provide basic infrastructural needs of schools countrywide. Its objective is to set infrastructure standards that state schools must comply with. Minister Motshekga agreed to publish the document as part of a court settlement in November 2012.

Equal Education has criticised the document for being vague and not presenting any specific minimum norms and standards. The organisation is also concerned by its lack of commitment to dates by when norms and standards will be implemented. The document, according to Equal Education, does not explain any mechanisms for delivery and accountability, and only directs the Minister of Education to release guidelines for standards.

Equal Education is not alone in its dissatisfaction with Motshekga. The South African Democratic Teachers’ Union (SADTU) has recently demanded her resignation following her withdrawal from talks that will determine the pay that teachers receive for the marking of exams. In a statement, SADTU wrote that it is, “unhappy with the Minister’s lack of accountability enforcement following the issue of textbook delivery and that her unilateral withdrawal from talks undermines the stability of labor relations in the education sector.”

Equal Education’s public hearing, held at the Good Hope Centre, was attended by students, parents, teachers, NGO organizers, legal service agencies, and concerned citizens. The purpose of the hearing, the last of a nation wide tour by the organisation, was to provide an opportunity for commentary and submissions on the draft. Members of the public were given the opportunity to let their grievances be heard. The hearing was chaired by retired Constitutional Court judge, Justice Zak Yacoob, and Equal Education Chairperson, Yoliswa Dwane.

The hall was packed with mostly students but also teachers and a concerned vanguard of teaching staff. Justice Yacoob opened the meeting by saying, “We are here today to demand that we need to have a say about what is needed for schools.” He continued, “Education is a constitutional right and we are here to make a difference.” Justice Yacoob slated government for not being present at the hearing, stating that they “must take us seriously, if they wish to prevent us using other ways to make our demands heard.”

Brian Isaacs, principal of South Peninsula High, called Motshekga’s draft, “eight pages of nothingness”. He listed demands for inclusion in the draft, for example a maximum of 30 children per classroom, one library for every 500 students, a minimum of one toilet for every 30 students.

A Khayelitsha student said, “I have seen the draft and I am not happy, how are we meant to develop our talents?” Another asked, “How will the minister feel if she had to take her child to my school?” A grade 9 student from Makhaza said, “We would like time specifications in the draft, otherwise the future does not look bright.” A matriculant from South Peninsula High school said, “The department needs to act quickly otherwise there will be chaos.” A Mowbray teacher warned that Minister Motshekga is “undermining the development of skills in South Africa”, and that without education the country’s future is in question.

Speakers from the floor highlighted the need for sanitation, libraries, laboratories, computers, electricity and sports fields in all schools.

“The things we have heard here moved us and we are saddened,” concluded Justice Yacoob. “We are challenging the department to act quickly and take our needs seriously”, he said.

Minister Motshekga will consider submissions regarding the draft document until the 31 March. She will publish the final Norms and Standards on 15 May. As things stand, unless the final version is a substantially different from the current draft, a showdown between her and education activists is looming.

TOPICS:  Education

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