As the state of South African schools remain a concern for parents and society alike, Equal Education Law Centre (EELC) briefed Parliaments Portfolio Committee on Basic Education this week. The greatest problem? Implementation of existing policies.
Issues such as funding, migration of early childhood development, exclusory practices that hinder children from attending school were discussed; with transport and accommodation for learners with disabilities topping the list.
The report by the legal centre presented critical information on the nature and extent of the Education Department’s progress for the year. EELC Attorney, Precillar Moyo, said of particular concern was the implementation of the Screening, Identification Assessment and Support (SIAS) policy.
“We raised concern around the implementation of the policy we referred to as “SIAS”. This is a Screening, Identification Assessment and Support policy that’s meant to enable schools to identify learners that have learning difficulties and physical barriers. It ensures that ordinary, public schools, admit these learners by making reasonable accommodations for them.”
“We’ve seen that this policy is quite comprehensive its not being implemented very well. As a result, we have a number of children not being accepted because (schools) “cannot accommodate their learning needs.”
A policy the EELC found was not being implemented adequately was the “Norms and Standards for School Infrastructure” policy, which caters to basic needs and services.
“The department has (this) great policy that makes certain requirements for school to have electricity water, sanitation and, as times go on, for each school to improve in terms of having labs, libraries, sports fields.”
Moyo emphasised that this lack of implementation is most felt in rural areas. Sadly, in these areas, another violation exists: pit latrine toilets.
The death of two five year old children in May 2019, sparked outrage over government’s inability to provide adequate sanitation to its children. Lumka Mketwa and Michael Komape epitomized the drastic need for action.
Despite the pit latrine toilets being a violation of the standards of the aforementioned policy, over 4 000 schools across the country still make use of them, while more than 30 schools in the Eastern Cape reportedly have no ablution facilities whatsoever.
“As we speak today, especially in rural provinces, that don’t even have those basic needs (met). There’s still a huge back log of schools that are currently using pit latrines. Very little progress has been made that all provinces comply with this policy,” said Moyo.
Another hot topic was schools ability to adjust to students with special needs such as those with disabilities.
“In reality, a number of schools they’re not built to accommodate with physical disabilities. When learners don’t have extreme physical disabilities, we find that there are slight modifications that can be made in terms of teaching and small infrastructure changes in the schools that should be and could be done to reasonably accommodate these learners, but they’re not being done.”
“There are some schools that have gone a long way and are making quite a huge difference, but in terms of the need that is there and the availability at those schools, there is a big disparity.”
The age-old concern for parents over the safety of their children, remained an important aspect to address. The EELC regrettably pointed to discrepancies relating to national governments’ National Scholar Transport Policy.
In Cape Town, concerned parents, child activists and members of community safety initiatives, embarked on the Walking Bus Project. This sees tens of adults walking dozens, sometimes hundreds, of children to school every day. The concept kicked off in several gang-infested areas, where children would fear for their lives on a regular basis.
“The main challenge of implementation of this policy are the different criteria that exist at a provincial level, on identifying what the need is. There is quite a huge inconsistency in terms of provinces knowing the number of children that need scholar transport.”
“Equal Education has been running a campaign in KZN and over the years, they’ve seen that once you have a problem with getting accurate data with how many children need transport and determining the criteria which makes children eligible to receive that transport.”
Moyo added that consistency is needed:
“In KZN, for example, there was some inconsistency between the distance that you’d qualify for being either 3 or 5km. That meant in some cases, children who live within 3km would get but then others, until you reach the 5km radius you would not get.”
“The department seems to have issued a directive, policy or report that explains what the policy is and tried to cater with children with disabilities. We wish all the other provinces would also do a report that is similar. That makes it clear what allows you to qualify for scholar transport. Because it’s a big hindrance for people actually accessing schools.”
“If you have to walk long distances to get to school, you get there your tired and can’t concentrate and sometimes you’re a victim of violence on the way.”
Language and Literacy”National Education Evaluation & Development Unit through the spotlight was thrown on literacy levels at South African schools after study revealed that 80% of Grade 5 learners, between the ages of 9 and 10 year’s old, have not mastered basic reading skills. This sparked the emergence of a campaign that works to address the problem holistically.
“In terms of international studies that has been done, the government has been open (about) problems children have,” said Moyo. She added that a commitment was made to addressed the issue.
The DBE recognized that improvements need to be made in several areas.
Meanwhile, the attorney encouraged citizens to become actively informed and hold those in power to account.
“The public should engage with parliament to become equipped in to use their oversight ability and hold government to account. Said protect the right to education and make sure it is fulfilled and does its best to support the DBE.”