Update From the Field: Supporting Equal Education’s Advocacy for Quality & Equality in South African Schools

N-Map recently partnered with Equal Education (EE), a movement of learners, parents, teachers, and principals working to improve the infrastructure of public schools in South Africa. The team filmed at schools in the Eastern Cape—one of the country’s poorest and most isolated provinces—to document the environment in which students there learn. Our footage will be part of a larger campaign to hold the South African government accountable for its commitment to improve school infrastructure throughout the country.

In the Eastern Cape, we visited four schools. Each one faces unique challenges but all suffer from significant infrastructural challenges—the most dire lack electricity, potable water, toilets, and safe classroom structures (i.e. structures constructed of mud, corrugated zinc, or asbestos). The impact of these conditions on a student’s ability to learn is profound. Some students don’t eat or drink before school to avoid using the toilet while at school; some girls skip school during their menstruation periods since their schools have neither sanitary pads nor places to dispose them.

Our three-hour drive and 30-minute hike to reach the mountaintop school of Siyibane shows the remoteness of many schools in the province. Siyibane has no water, no electricity, no toilets, and no fencing for security. The three-room shack structure is made entirely of corrugated zinc with mud floors—insufficient to keep out the rain, the cold, or the howling wind.

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Siyibane’s inadequate infrastructure means students spend time helping with logistics rather than spending time in the classroom. On our hike to reach the mountaintop school, we passed a group of students carrying a 19kg gas canister. They struggled for three hours to carry the canister up the mountain so that the school could cook lunch. When the students finally reached the top, the school day was nearly over and these students had not yet entered the classroom.

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Poor infrastructure at schools like Siyibane is not conducive to learning and does not enable students to enjoy their right to education, as protected under the South African Constitution. This is why we’re working with Equal Education to increase awareness of the Minimum Norms and Standards for Public School Infrastructure — a law passed in South Africa in November 2013, setting out the minimum requirements for acceptable infrastructure in public schools. We’ll help Equal Education use visual storytelling—and the voices of students—to empower South African citizens to hold their government accountable for implementing the Norms and Standards law.

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Media is uniquely suited for this task. Video or radio PSAs exponentially increases the ability of EE to promote citizens’ understanding of their rights, explain the importance of citizen monitoring, and how to report violations. Media especially increases EE’s reach in rural or isolated communities. It took a three-hour truck ride and a 30-minute hike for us to reach the mountaintop school of Siyibane. A radio program could make it in minutes.

Check back here to see our progress on this project with Equal Education.

2 thoughts on “Update From the Field: Supporting Equal Education’s Advocacy for Quality & Equality in South African Schools

  1. I grew up there at Siyibane and did my lower grades there, indeed the living conditions there are disgusting. We use students and donkeys as a transport. We travel about 10km walking because transport cannot get there.

    1. The standard of living is very poor there, I think I am the only one who graduated at the University from that village and it was hard. Most kids are dropouts because they cannot travel +-10km everyday to and from school walking. something needs to be done there.

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