In the struggle to improve the quality of education in South African schools, Equal Education has been campaigning relentlessly for the release of the Norms and Standards for School Infrastructure regulations. These laws define the basic level of infrastructure that every school must meet in order to function properly, including safe toilets and classrooms, water, electricity, and security. Following four years of intense campaigning, these regulations were finally released by the Minister of Education in November 2013. However, any taste of victory soured when in January 2014, Michael Komape, a 6 year old learner in his first week of school, drowned in a pit latrine when the corroded iron sheet serving as the toilet seat gave way. The laws that should have prevented Michael’s death remained inert more than a full year after being passed. This young learner has been commemorated in the renaming of EE’s campaign, now called the Michael Komape Norms and Standards Campaign, which aims to hold Government to account on the implementation of this law.
Over the last year, the Trust’s continued collaboration with Equal Education has seen the successful establishment of a new office in the Eastern Cape, the hub for EE’s ongoing Norms and Standards education and mobilisation work. July 2015 marked the end of the first year of a Comic Relief grant, managed by the Trust, to support this critical work. Intense campaign action, including a nation-wide sleep-in protest in April, and a march of more than 2000 learners, parents and teachers to the Eastern Cape Department of Education in May, has resulted in a significant step forward – namely the release of Government’s Implementation Plans. These set out what infrastructure is needed where, and how the needs will be addressed. This small victory was brought about through public demand, with EE organising a nation-wide sleep-in protest in April, and a demonstration of more than 2000 learners, parents and teachers to the Eastern Cape Department of Education in May. Two weeks after this, the implementation plans were finally made public.
The work ahead entails careful monitoring of these Implementation Plans. The Trust continues to support EE’s efforts to engage with communities, educators, learners and government to ensure that those affected understand their rights under this law, and how the law should be implemented. EE will be analysing and verifying Government’s infrastructure backlog lists to ensure that the information pertaining to listed schools is accurate and that all schools requiring infrastructure appear there. Follow-up action to build infrastructure will be carefully monitored against the stipulated timeframes and budgets. By November 29th 2016, all schools made from mud, asbestos, wood or metal should have been rebuilt, and all schools should have access to water, sanitation and electricity. Equal Education’s work is critical in holding Government to account on these promises.