Progress on the Eradication Of Mud Schools: The DBE Reports To Parliament in August 2017

Though the government has injected substantial funding into the project of eradicating mud schools in South Africa, it would be unfounded to suggest that these problems have been effectively or entirely addressed. This note seeks to outline the story and progress on the issue of mud schools thus far.

The most recent developments on mud schools’ eradication became public knowledge in August 2017 when The Department of Basic Education (DBE) reported to parliament, briefing the Standing Committee on Appropriations on their fourth quarter performance on progress made thus far. The DBE noted that despite mud schools remaining in the Eastern Cape, in every other province mud schools have been entirely eradicated and recipients of Accelerated Schools Infrastructure Development Initiative (ASIDI) funding have replaced mud schools with stable, safe and modern infrastructure. However, despite the reporting of improvements in infrastructure development, it has become clear that there has been extreme under expenditure in the ASIDI programme in the Eastern Cape which has led to overwhelming underperformance of ASIDI. Proper monitoring would avoid this, the DBE said.

It noted that one of the problems is that many of the implementing agents tasked with carrying out the aims of ASIDI fundamentally lack capacity and are entirely ill equipped to enforce the programme. A pronounced weakness of ASIDI seems to be the deficiencies of leadership oversight in the implementation of the infrastructure programme. The right to education and infrastructure delivery is a concurrent function falling under the responsibility of both provincial and national government. In the report to parliament, the DBE confirmed that the department does depend heavily upon provinces to implement tasks and oversee programmes such as ASIDI. However, according to the DBE, since the birth of ASIDI provinces are no longer contributing enough towards infrastructure improvement.

The story of Mud Schools

Mud schools are schools constructed using mud and cow dung against a wooden framework. They have unsafe structural deficiencies and are ill equipped to operate as spaces capable of encouraging effective learning. The effects of the appalling conditions at these schools on the quality of education has been tangible.

“The classrooms have dirt floors and holes in the roof, which are made of corrugated iron or thatch.  The classrooms have walls that are crumbling and which provide little or no protection from the elements… storms resulted in the roofs of two of the classrooms being destroyed and four grades at the school had to be accommodated in community members’ homes.”[1]

Prior to litigation, many of the schools had fallen into an advanced state of disrepair with a severe shortage of materials and resources necessary to effectuate learning.

For more than ten years, speeches and policy documents issued by government officials conceded that the conditions at mud schools across the Eastern Cape were unacceptable and represented a breach of the State’s constitutional obligations to uphold the right to education. Governmental policies and objectives repeatedly set out the commitment of the state to the eradication of mud schools. Yet, to accompany each promise came the realisation that there had never been a proper financial and operational plan to achieve the replacement of mud schools and that budgetary allocations for the objective were hopelessly inadequate.

One of the focuses of the Legal Resources Centre (LRC) has been to improve access and quality of education in South Africa, and particularly in the Eastern Cape. Faced with the issue of mud schools, the LRC adopted Litigation as a vehicle to realise the constitutional right to education.

Litigation, Settlement and ASIDI

In 2010 the LRC launched the case to eradicate mud schools and compel the government to commit to that objective. The LRC litigated on behalf of seven schools and was joined by Centre for Child Law (CCL) who represented the wider public interest. Concerns largely fell into three main areas: the replacement of mud schools with proper facilities; the lack of desks and chairs available to schools and access to adequate water at the schools. The application sought court orders which directed the government to commit to replacing all mud schools and to generate a budgetary plan to ensure that the schools were adequately supplied with furniture and the facilities required. Initially the government opposed the application. However, the department later proposed a settlement agreement offering to commit R8.2 billion to replacing inadequate school structures nationwide, with R6.36 billion committed to schools in the Eastern Cape. The money was to be spent over three years in accordance with the newly created ASIDI. ASIDI was tasked with overseeing the replacing and repairing of over 500 mud schools in the Eastern Cape. ASIDI was directed to generate a master list of the schools which required infrastructure improvements and construction and was to budget and plan accordingly.

However, ASIDI failed to achieve its aims. In 2014, over 200 mud schools in the Eastern Cape had not been improved or replaced. Regrettably, due to failures to plan effectively, ASIDI only spent a quarter of the money allocated to it by the National Treasury for the three-year period. Ineffective planning and an overarching disconnect between the objectives of ASIDI and the reality of action taken left the LRC with no option but to institute further litigation to compel the department to address flaws pertaining to development and implementation.

In 2014 a settlement was agreed upon whereby the government promised to generate an updated ASIDI master list and a comprehensive plan for rollout and budget allocation. Nevertheless, in breach of the 2014 order, the government failed to develop such a plan for those schools on the ASIDI list forcing the LRC to issue contempt proceedings in 2015. At this point the LRC instituted a monitoring programme which generated recommendations for each school on the ASIDI list which remained to be addressed by a comprehensive government generated plan.

The Effects of Litigation

Despite the consistent failures of the government to respond, the litigation ensured a degree of success in that the government has delivered on many of its promises. In 2011, over 500 mud schools were in operation in the Eastern Cape. By June 2017, only approximately 30  schools remain that are constructed completely of mud.

“The improvements in the schools have had a profound effect on the students’ morale and quality of teaching. Students now come to school on the weekend, and on holidays, where before they would often be absent from school. Students frequently arrive at school early, and leave late – something which never happened when the school was comprised solely of mud structure classrooms. Teachers are much more effective now, as a result of the improvements. It is now easier for students to progress in their lessons, and for teachers to monitor their development. There has been a marked improvement in learner achievement.”[2]

Conclusion

The settlements made in the mud schools litigation gave an indication of the results that can be achieved and many of the schools desperate for infrastructure improvement have undergone development. However, many systemic failures have been uncovered. Proper follow-up litigation such as that undertaken by the LRC, is a critical factor in ensuring that public interest litigation achieves maximum social change. Furthermore, holding the government to account through monitoring and enforcement programmes is essential to achieve substantive improvement. The Eastern province is still not doing enough to allocate the necessary budget or to provide adequate planning mechanisms. However, it has been suggested in the report to parliament that recent strengthening of management performance seems to have improved ASIDI commitments. The Committee suggested that the Department review their plans, reprioritise their budgets and develop an acceleration plan.

By Marianne Holbrook

(edited by Samantha Brener)

[1] The Centre for Child Law and & seven others v The Government of the Eastern Cape & two others, Case Number 504/10, Bhisho High Court (2010)

[2] The Centre for Child Law and & seven others v The Government of the Eastern Cape & two others, Case Number 504/10, Bhisho High Court (2010)

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