South Africa’s public education system is widely regarded as in a crisis, with the Covid-19 pandemic further exacerbating existing inequalities within our education system. Along with issues of differential access to inclusive and quality education from early childhood to tertiary education, the inequitable distribution of education resources, inadequate infrastructure, overcrowded classrooms, and relatively poor educational outcomes, the following are some of the issues within the education sector that require immediate and deliberate interventions:

  • 79.2% of South Africans with no formal education were poor, compared with 35.6% of those with Matric.
  • 78% of Grade 4 learners (grade age norm is 10 years old) in South Africa cannot read for meaning in any language, including their home language.
  • 40% of learners will drop out of school before writing their matric examination.
  • Only 15-20% of learners entering school in grade 1 will leave school with a high school pass that grants them access to higher education, and the majority of these learners come from high fee-paying schools.
  • 80% of state schools in the country – catering exclusively to the needs of black learners – are classified as broadly “dysfunctional”.
  • In 2018, 72% of public primary and secondary schools that catered to the majority of black learners, had no internet access.
  • 854 000 children were not in school in 2017, 600 000 of whom were excluded on account of their disability.

Further to the above, many schools are poorly resourced. In 2020, the Department of Basic Education reported that over 5000 schools have little to no water supply, over 400 schools have no electricity supply and over 3000 schools use pit toilets as their main ablution facilities. Additionally, many schools’ classrooms are overcrowded, with some schools reporting a 60:1 learner to teacher ratio. Overall, the above issues have a profound impact on a learner’s ability to receive adequate and equal education and unjustifiably infringe on the basic education rights afforded to each learner in South Africa. Major, structural change is, therefore, necessary to ensure that South Africa meets its constitutional obligations regarding the provision of education.

To tackle the plethora of issues faced by marginalized learners, the LRC has developed a strategy consisting of a wide range of clearly defined actions and interventions aimed at ensuring that these injustices faced in the education sector are dismantled. In particular, the LRC is currently engaged in interventions aimed at:

  • Challenging models, policies, and laws that perpetuate injustices in the education sector.
  • Requiring the government to implement legal frameworks or plans aimed at addressing such injustices.
  • Developing and conducting advocacy campaigns that highlight injustices within the education sector.
  • Engaging in strategic litigation to compel government departments responsible for addressing injustices to do so.

The LRC believes that these interventions will achieve the following strategic results, each of which is designed to ensure that structural changes in the education sector are realized for the benefit of learners in our nation:

  • Education resource provisioning is equitable and accountable.
  • Barriers to preventing access to education for all are tangibly reduced.
  • Compulsory, free, quality, and inclusive pre-primary education are accessible to all.
  • The most marginalized experience quality basic education.
  • Improved literacy levels at the foundation level are realized.

The LRC has successfully litigated a number of cases that have uplifted the right to education of learners across South Africa. Some examples of these cases include:

  • The Centre for Child Law and Others v Minister of Basic Education and Others 2020 case (the Phakamisa Case) where the LRC, working in collaboration with the Centre for Child Law, obtained an order declaring that undocumented learners in South Africa must not be denied access to schools due to their status.
  • In Tripartite Steering Committee and Another v Minister of Basic Education and Others, 2015 (the Scholar Transport case) the LRC obtained a judgment against the Department of Basic Education for the provision of transport to learners who lived kilometers away from their nearest school and had to walk to and from school daily.
  • In collaboration with, and on behalf of Equal Education, the LRC engaged in litigation against the Minister of Basic Education to establish and implement national minimum norms and standards for public school infrastructure. The litigation culminated in the publication and adoption of the South African School’s Act 84 of 1996 Regulations Relating to Minimum Uniform Norms and Standards for Public School Infrastructure.

The LRC is currently developing further advocacy campaigns and strategic litigation to continue to uphold the basic education rights of all learners in South Africa.