Equal Education has sent letters to the Provincial Departments of Education raising serious concerns around the deficiencies in the Provincial Norms and standards implementation plans, and in the school infrastructure regulations themselves.

It has been almost two years since the Regulations Relating to Minimum Uniform Norms and Standards for Public School Infrastructure (the Norms and Standards) were promulgated into law on the 29th of November 2013. Since then, EE, with the assistance of the Equal Education Law Centre (EELC) has written a number of letters to the Minister, raising serious concerns over vagueness and loopholes in the wording of the regulations.

We were also concerned about the delay in releasing the provincial implementation plans, which are required by the new law. These implementation plans were due by 29 November 2014, but were only released to the public on 12 June 2015, after months of letters, protests, marches and sleep-ins led by EE members.

The Norms and Standards Regulations are a powerful tool for improving school infrastructure, but as we have said all along they contain deficiencies. There is an “escape hatch”, which makes delivery of school infrastructure by the Department of Basic Education subject to resources and co-operation of other government agencies. The Regulations also fail to say how dangerous school buildings will be corrected, and are silent on time frames for fixing schools which are built mostly (but not entirely) from mud, wood, asbestos, metal or other inappropriate structures. We raised these and other issues with the Minister last year, and were promised a response by January 2015, but never received this.

Our concerns are being validated. These defects have negatively affected the formulation of the provincial implementation plans.

The delay in the release of the provincial plans hampered community and civil society efforts to assess whether schools have been correctly catered for in accordance with the Norms and Standards requirements. With only 15 months left until the end of the first delivery time frame, it is unfortunate that we have only recently been able to begin the process of analysing the provincial plans. Nevertheless, we have done so.

We have now written to all of the MECs, highlighting our most serious concerns about the shortcomings in each provincial plan.

Some of the glaring deficiencies in the provincial plans are:

  • Reliance on budget shortages and non-performances of other government agencies to excuse failure to meet the Norms and Standards deadlines.
  • The lack of complete information on school infrastructure backlogs. There is no way to fix school infrastructure without knowing, in detail, what the current state of the backlogs are. The absence of detail on backlogs is particularly concerning, considering that DBE spokesperson Elijah Mhlangu tweeted on 6 June 2015 (before the release of the plans) that “we have done a full scale audit on school infrastructure and we know all the schools that need attention”.
  • The lack of uniformity in planning: The plans are all written in completely different formats. This is despite the Minister having informed us that she was meeting together with all the MEC’s to finalise the plans. The lack of structure in the plans will make it difficult for community members, parents, teachers and learners to hold the DBE and the Provincial Departments accountable to its obligations and commitments
  • Internal inconsistencies: The provincial plans at different places set out different numbers for backlogs in school infrastructure items, rendering the plans deficient as a tool for the public to participate in implementation and accountability.

On the 29th of November 2015 there will be one year remaining until, according to the new binding law, the Norms and Standards for School Infrastructure, the Department of Basic Education must have ensured that there are no longer schools without any water, electricity or sanitation, or built from inappropriate structures. Will our government and our country be able to meet that deadline?

According to the DBE’s 2014 National Education Infrastructure Management Systems (NEIMS) Report, there are currently: 604 schools without any access to water, 1131 without any access to electricity, 474 without any access to sanitation. There are an additional 4 681 schools with an unreliable water supply, and 2 773 schools with an unreliably electricity supply. These schools are slated to be dealt with within 7 years under the Norms and Standards. Moreover, there are still 11 033 schools with pit latrines, although the Norms and Standards state clearly: “Pit latrines and bucket toilets are not allowed at schools.”

These numbers paint a bleak picture especially because of the existing loopholes and vagueness in the regulations themselves, as well as the deficiencies in the Provincial Plans. In reality this means learners have to wait longer for decent and dignified toilets, wait longer for safe classrooms where they do not have to fear that the roof will collapse on them, wait longer taps at their schools, fences, laboratories, libraries, sporting fields. This simply prolongs the existing of unequal education in the country for those in rural and township schools.

We are calling on provinces to progress implementation of the Norms and Standards as swiftly as possible. We would also like to see the amendment of the regulations (including the deletion of the escape hatch), so as to ensure that the Norms and Standards fully and comprehensively bind the state to provide safe and adequate school infrastructure to learners.

For more information contact:

Nombulelo (EE spokesperson)

Lisa Draga (Equal Education Law Centre Attorney)
021 461 1421