Judgment to be handed on department’s obligations to provide infrastructure for schools

17 July 2018 - 09:58 By Ernest Mabuza
File photo.
File photo.
Image: Gallo Images/iStockphoto

Judgment will be handed down in Equal Education’s application against the Minister of Basic Education to comply with the norms and standards for school infrastructure.

The case by the organisation‚ which was heard in the Bhisho High Court in March this year‚ seeks to ensure that government properly commits to meeting its own school infrastructure targets.

In November 2013‚ the Minister of Basic Education published legally binding norms and standards for school infrastructure‚ which compelled the department to ensure schools were safe and dignified places in which to learn. However‚ the department has failed to meet its own deadlines set out in the norms.

“If the Bhisho High Court agrees with Equal Education‚ it will mean that the country’s law on school infrastructure will be tightened‚ and there will not be any excuse for any failure by the nine provinces to comply with the deadlines which the law sets for providing essential infrastructure at schools‚” Equal Education said on the eve of the judgment.

Equal Education said after the Minimum Norms and Standards for School Infrastructure were passed in November 2013‚ the country had a law that gave effect to the constitutional rights to dignity‚ equality and education.

The norms said a school must have decent toilets‚ electricity‚ water‚ fencing‚ sufficient classrooms‚ libraries‚ laboratories and sports fields.

But loopholes in the law had made it possible for government to avoid fixing schools‚ and have hindered the ability of schools and communities to assert their right to dignified and safe learning spaces.

In its application for the department to comply with the norms and standards‚ Equal Education argued in the High Court that the wording of the school infrastructure law meant that learners should expect “some unspecified person” to fix their school “at some unspecified time”.

Equal Education submitted to the court that the right to basic education was uniquely framed in the constitution‚ and was immediately realisable.

It said the fact that the infrastructure law allowed the State to escape the duty to actually fix schools‚ constituted an unjustified limitation on the right‚ and ought to be corrected by the court.

In contrast‚ the State argued that while the right to basic education was immediately realisable‚ its components‚ such as safe and adequate infrastructure‚ were not.