Teachers, students and parents demand toilets and libraries for schools

| Koketso Moeti
Teachers, education experts, students and parents met at Wits University on Monday and Tuesday to discuss how to ensure the Norms and Standards regulations, published last year by the Minister of Education, are implemented. Photo by Koketso Moeti.

“Our school has four pit-toilets, two for the boys and two for the girls”, Yonela Jumba says. “These toilets are also used by the teachers.”

Jumba teaches at Thakabanna Senior Secondary School in Batlokoa, Eastern Cape.

Clearly distressed, she also described how classrooms leak during rain, so that teachers have to get the children into the corners of the rooms so they can keep dry.

Jumba was sharing her story at a conference that gathered school students, parents and teachers and experts at the WITS Education College on Monday and Tuesday to demand that their schools get toilets, libraries and the infrastructure needed for quality education. This conference, hosted by the social movement Equal Education and three public interest law organisations, SECTION27, Equal Education Law Centre and the Legal Resources Centre, intends to ensure that the Norms and Standards regulations published by the Minister of Education on 29 November 2013 are successfully implemented.

Jumba also told how a Grade 10 student, Boketlo Thakhuli, introduced the teachers at her school to Equal Education, which led to a visit from the organisation. The school with support from Equal Education started mobilising to get it fixed. Their campaign cited their good school results to put additional pressure on government. Despite the poor condition of the school, in recent years they have achieved a pass rate of over 85%.

A number of expert speakers described the problems with the education system and government’s legal responsibilities to address them, stressing the importance of making the regulations a living document that can be used to hold government accountable and improve education across the country.

James Komape, who has dedicated his life to fixing schools in his community, in memory of his late son, Michael. Photo by Koketso Moeti.

The conference was named after Michael Komape. Michael was six years old when he died in a pit-toilet on what was only his fourth day of school, at Mahlodumela Primary School in Chebeng village outside Polokwane, in January this year. It is believed that a zinc sheet serving as pit toilet seat collapsed while Michael was using it.

His father, James, attended the conference. He has now dedicated his life to fixing schools in his area. He hopes to one day see a library named after his son in his community. Speaking about the project he says, “Michael died just as I was busy trying to make things better. He died a terrible death and should never be forgotten.”

The conference heard many similar stories of hardship due to poor infrastructure. For example a six-year old boy in Limpopo who walks four kilometres to and from home just to use the toilet, whenever he needs it during school hours.

Matema Dhladhla (11), a Grade 5 student at Loreto Convent. Photo by Koketso Moeti.

Eleven-year old Matema Dhladhla, who had come to the conference with her aunt, expressed how happy she was to be at the conference, “I am very touched by what other students go through, because our school is in a [good] condition. Children like me assume that it’s the same for everyone else.”

The Grade 5 student says being at the conference has made her realise how important it is that children like her get involved in the struggle for quality education. Inspired by the conference, she plans to visit a school in bad condition in Limpopo, take photos and write a short article for her school and “share with my fellow pupils what these learners go through for education”.

Zona Menera is an 18-year-old school student from Kraaifontein in Cape Town. She explained what the conference meant to her. “I have learnt a lot about the Norms and Standards regulations over the last two days and what it means for learners like me. I can’t wait to tell others about it and also how we ourselves can go about monitoring the implementation phase.”

Group discussions on how to mobilise around getting the norms and standards regulations implemented. Photo by Koketso Moeti.

A conference declaration is available is available on the Equal Education website. It states that the norms and standards regulations, “although not perfect, are a breakthrough for advancing the right to a basic education, among other rights. They give us an opportunity to see the realization of important aspects of the right, that cannot be missed.”

The declaration promises that the organisations involved in the conference will lobby Parliament to ensure the regulations are implemented. It says they will carry out “a sustained program, using all available means, including distribution of posters and pamphlets, door-to-door campaigning, community meetings, strengthening of parent and student organisations, and the use of all forms of media” to share knowledge about the norms and standards with everyone involved in education.

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