An ‘important purpose of section 34 [of the Constitution] is to guarantee the protection of the judicial process to persons who have disputes that can be resolved by law’ and that the right of access to court is ‘foundational to the stability of an orderly society. It ensures the peaceful, regulated and institutionalised mechanisms to resolve disputes, without resorting to self-help. The right of access to court is a bulwark against vigilantism, and the chaos and anarchy which it causes. Construed in this context of the rule of law and the principle against self-help in particular, access to court is indeed of cardinal importance’.The right guaranteed s34 would be rendered meaningless if court orders could be ignored with impunity:the underlying purposes of the right — and particularly that of avoidance of self-help — would be undermined if litigants could decide which orders they wished to obey and which they wished to ignore.
No textbooks for some Khayelitsha matrics: Equal Education and learners forced to consider legal action against the Western Cape Education Department
Dear Friends of EE,
Six months into the schools year, at the height of the FIFA World Cup, Equal Education (EE) has been forced to consider legal action in order to ensure that its members, and other Khayelitsha matrics, have textbooks in order to prepare (albeit too late) for their final examinations.
Take for example, Olwethu ‘Shakes’ Matyesini (19), a grade 12 learner from Khayelitsha, a member of EE and one of the keynote speakers at the 2009 Ashley Kriel Memorial Lecture. More than halfway through his matric year, he is yet to receive a science textbook although this is a critical and difficult subject. He is doing seven subjects and only has a textbook for Life Orientation and shares IsiXhosa prescribed texts with other learners. He hopes to pass his matric and enrol at the University of Cape Town to study languages and communication.
Although textbook problems are widespread, particularly in grades 8 and 9, our immediate concern, as explained in theletter of demand sent to the WCED, relates to matric students in two large schools:
EE brought the situation to the attention of the Western Cape Education Department (WCED) on 11 May 2010, and again on 14 May 2010, and received assurance that it would be investigated. The situation in schools had not improved by 9 June 2010 when schools closed for holidays. In order to ensure that textbooks are available on 13 July 2010 when matrics return to school, EE sent the above-mentioned letter of demand to the WCED.
Western Cape MEC for Education, Donald Grant, seems to have reacted angrily to this letter, and the press statement which accompanied it. But his response is altogether unsatisfactory and evasive. The thrust is that because the Western Cape is the leading province in education it is unjustified for Equal Education and Khayelitsha matric learners to raise concerns about not having textbooks for the entire year. We feel that the WCED’s relative success in many areas should not be used to defend specific failures.
In the Western Cape, EE works on a daily basis in Khayelitsha, Kraaifontein and Bonteheuwel and elsewhere. It is in these places that we work with WCED officials, school principals, learners and teachers to establish libraries, run after-school youth group meetings and conduct campaigns for resources and effective school management. We know the dedication and self-sacrifice of many educators and officials, and the despondency and apathy of others. It is very sad that when a civil society organisation raises the alarm, in this case about two schools that haven’t had adequate textbook supply since January, the MEC’s response is to attack civil society and to blame the schools. Organisations like EE that bring to the public’s attention the fact that matrics are without textbooks for months, should be seen by the education department as resources and allies.
The MEC is rightly proud of the Western Cape’s education system, but a considered analysis should give citizens of the province pause. The Western Cape matric pass rate has declined annually from 85.1 percent in 2004 to 75.7 percent in 2009. The physical science pass rate plummeted from 71.2 percent in 2008 to 52.9 percent in 2009. Although the Western Cape remains on top of South Africa’s ailing education system, and for this the hardworking teachers and officials of the WCED deserve enormous credit, teaching and learning in the province takes place in starkly unequal conditions. The 2009 matric pass rate for Khayelitsha was 50.5 percent. This result is worse than the Eastern Cape which averaged 51 percent. In Khayelitsha, from amongst the 19 high schools, only 26 students scored 50% or above in both mathematics and physical science. In other words, parts of the Western Cape are performing worse than the poorest areas in our country. Overall success in our province obscures a reality of failure in under-resourced areas.
We know that schools play a key role in the textbook ordering process. However, schools are a part of the WCED, not separate from it, and the MEC has a duty to monitor administrative failure and to ensure compliance. It is wrong for the MEC to blame “individual schools”, whose staff and learners are working under very difficult conditions, and who need the active support or intervention of his department. And in the particular case of Chris Hani, EE was informed by a WCED official that the department, not the school, is at fault.
The MEC’s statement refers to “an additional 15 000 textbooks to Grade 12 learners in the seven core subjects in a top-up programme”. This is positive, but bearing in mind that there were 44,931 Western Cape matrics in 2009, all requiring a minimum of 7 textbooks, it has not solved the problem. The MEC’s statement also refers to an “unprecedented second top-up programme for Grade 12 learners to identify where there may still be textbook shortages”. This confirms our concerns, that notwithstanding the undoubted efforts of the WCED, there are still a substantial number of matriculants without textbooks at the midpoint of the academic year.
The deeper difficulties, faced by national and provincial education departments, and schools, are the high costs of resources such as books, and inadequate funding. EE is aware that these are largely national questions. We will work with the WCED to increase national funding for poor schools and bring the cost of textbooks down. In the meanwhile the textbook shortage for matrics in Chris Hani, KwaMfundo and other schools, must be urgently addressed.
The WCED have until Friday to respond. Although we are fully prepared, we have no desire to proceed to legal action. Let’s hope the WCED inform us soon of their plans to ensure textbook delivery to the schools.
Coordinator – Equal Education
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