Education activists hit out at education dept over deadlines to fix schools

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Many pupils are forced to use dilapidated toilets like this one. They are at risk of contracting diseases or falling into these pit latrines, which are about 10 metres away from their classrooms. Picture: Tiro Ramatlhatse/Sowetan/Gallo Images
Many pupils are forced to use dilapidated toilets like this one. They are at risk of contracting diseases or falling into these pit latrines, which are about 10 metres away from their classrooms. Picture: Tiro Ramatlhatse/Sowetan/Gallo Images
  • Education activists protested against legislation changes they believe will delay infrastructure projects at schools.
  • The legislation could slow down the eradication of pit latrines at schools.
  • In the last decade, the number of schools with pit latrines has halved, Equal Education said.

Equal Education fears the ongoing use of pit latrines in schools could be prolonged following changes to legislation proposed by the Department of Basic Education relating to the scrapping of deadlines to fix school infrastructure.

The organisation marched in Cape Town on Thursday against draft amendments to the Norms and Standards for Public School Infrastructure, which it claims are "drastic and unacceptable".

Outside Parliament, Equal Education members displayed broken chairs and desks as part of the protest, while schoolchildren featured art of what their dream schools would look like.

"The situation is that they have to live with the trauma each and every day of not having computer labs, proper desks and proper chairs," said Equal Education's head of organising in the Western Cape, Nontsikelelo Dlulani.

"The deadlines are the only thing we can hold onto and hold the minister accountable. Even today, we still have pit latrine toilets, a lack of perimeter fencing, water and sanitation."

The organisation claims one of the biggest changes proposed by Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga is to do away with the deadline as to when the government must get rid of pit latrines and provide basics, such as water, electricity, classrooms, fences and libraries.

The organisation said: "Without deadlines that are written into law, learners and teachers could be waiting another 10 or 20 years for their schools to be fixed. Without the legally binding deadlines, how can learners, teachers and parents hold the education departments accountable to fulfil their legal and moral duty?"

The Department of Basic Education said it would release a statement in response to Equal Education's concerns on Thursday.

It had not been released at the time of publication.

Pit latrines are still in place at more than 3 000 schools nationally, News24 previously reported.

READ | SAHRC starts legal action against five provincial education departments over pit toilets at schools

It prompted the South African Human Rights Commission to start litigation against five education departments.

The relief the commission seeks will include an order to compel each department to provide a costed work plan that maps out the installation of sanitation facilities and planned upgrades, along with timelines, to the court and the commission.

Education expert Professor Felix Maringe said the issue of infrastructure at schools was important because it affected learning.

"We do not give the issue of infrastructure the due attention it requires. We tend to think about what goes on in the classroom. And while there is nothing wrong with that, we tend to forget that the classroom itself provides an environment which nurtures the kind of effort people will put into their work. Improving infrastructure at school is extremely important," he said.

Maringe said research had shown a correlation between schools with poor infrastructure and poor learning outcomes, which made a case for developing infrastructure to improve education standards.

According to Equal Education, the government is making slow, but definite, progress in delivering safe and proper school infrastructure.

Equal Education said:

According to the DBE's data (the National Education Infrastructure Management System), in 2013, 45% (10 915) of South Africa's then 23 909 public schools had plain pit latrines as toilets, 12% (2 925) had no electricity supply, and 7% (1 772) had no water supply.

According to the data, the number of schools with plain pit latrines had halved. In addition, 90 schools were completely without electricity, and no schools were completely without access to water. 

Equal Education and the Equal Education Law Centre won a legal battle against the department to have provincial education departments submit reports on their process in fixing schools and building new ones.

While the draft amendments would mean that these reports would be published on the websites of the national and provincial education departments, Equal Education said the department was removing "the guidance about the details that should be in the reports".

This could result in differing information from each province, which may hamper monitoring their progress.

"Without the urgency and accountability demanded by the deadlines in the school infrastructure law, poor and working-class communities will never know when their schools will be fixed," said Equal Education.

The proposed amendments were published in the Government Gazette on 10 June.

The deadline for feedback is 10 July, which Equal Education said was "far too little time for school communities to properly participate".

The organisation has requested that public participation be extended until the end of July.

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