Ensuring Quality and Equality in South African Schools

By Andrew Maki, N-Map’s Senior Attorney in Nigeria

By November 29th, 2016 all of South Africa’s schools will be required to have electricity, drinking water, toilets, and safe buildings. To ensure the country’s rural schools are aware of and meet the eight-month deadline, we are supporting the Michael Komape campaign in collaboration with Equal Education.

On January 21, 2013 6-year-old Michael Komape fell into a dilapidated pit toilet at his school and died. His school is one of many in South Africa that serve students from poorer families, and are severely under-resourced, overcrowded, and under-performing. In the Eastern Cape, in particular–where the the socio-economic legacy of colonialism and Apartheid manifests in unsafe schools and limited access to resources–infrastructure inadequacies like those that led to Michael’s death are all too common. Here, a substantial number of public schools lack access to electricity and drinking water, and either have no toilets or have unsafe pit latrines like the one Michael used.

To tackle these issues, Equal Education–a coalition of South African students, parents, teachers, and community members–launched a multi-pronged campaign to enact the Minimum Norms and Standards for School Infrastructure, which establishes legally binding minimum infrastructure standards in schools throughout the country. After three years of hard-fought advocacy that included marches, lobbying, and legal action, Equal Education succeeded in 2014 when the Minister of Basic Education, Mrs. Angie Motshekga, signed the Minimum Norms and Standards for School Infrastructure into law. By November of this year, all schools in South Africa are required to meet the most immediate and essential infrastructure requirements of the law.

Unfortunately, many rural communities in the Eastern Cape have no way of learning about the new requirements. To ensure Equal Education can inform these communities, N-Map teamed up with them to create a video that tells Michael’s story, documents the poor conditions at schools in the Eastern Cape, and captures first-person accounts from students, teachers, principals, and parents of how unsafe conditions and inadequate facilities negatively impact learning.

With versions in both isiXhosa and English, it outlines the Norms and Standards in simple terms, unifies and clarifies campaign messaging for the many “boots on the ground” volunteers working on this issue, and enables Equal Education to reach larger audiences. At its heart, it encourages communities to document pervasive infrastructure issues in their own schools, and advocate for their legal right to safe learning environments. Crucially, it provides civil society with a tool to hold South Africa accountable for its expressed commitment to equality, and demonstrates how media can support and strengthen community-based advocacy.

Equal Education is a movement of learners, parents, teachers and community members working for quality and equality in South African education, through analysis and activism. The Norms and Standards were established in 2010, but were only released publicly in June of last year after a seven-month, nationwide campaign organized by Equal Education.

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