Newsletter 276 - Equal Education - A Report on the State of South African Education


This report was published by the Equal Education Law Centre (“EELC”).

The EELC is a public interest law centre with activist lawyers and researchers working to advance the struggle for quality and equality in education through legal research, advocacy and strategic litigation. The EELC works closely with Equal Education (“EE”), a membership-based, democratic movement of learners, parents, teachers and com­munity members also striving for quality and equality in education in South Africa. The information in this report therefore draws on both the independent work of the EELC and the work it does in collaboration with EE.

This report was drafted by Rubeena Parker with Demichelle Petherbridge and Astrid Coombes.


We would like to thank members of the EELC team for their input, as well as Sibabalwe Gcilitshana of Equal Education for her assistance with budget analysis.

Date: May 2019


The Department of Basic Education (“DBE”) has translated the National De­velopment Plan 2030: Our future-make it work (“NDP”) Chapter 9 education goals into Action Plans, Strategic Plans and Annual Perfor­mance Plans. In its last published Annual Report for 2017/2018 (“Annual Report”), the DBE indi­cates it has made “substantial progress” towards achieving learning and education-related targets as set out in the NDP.

As the current electoral term draws to an end, it is important to critically assess the DBE’s over­all progress, not only as last reported, but also more broadly over the last five years.

The Equal Education Law Centre (“EELC”) set out to conduct research across some of its central thematic areas to assess the performance of the DBE and other government departments in advancing the right to basic education. Whilst acknowledging that there has been some pro­gress made by the DBE during this time, the re­port questions whether such progress has been “substantial” in the light of regressive education funding, chronic underspending and a consist­ent failure to meet set targets.

This report presents additional, and in some cases, alternative critical information on the na­ture and extent of the DBE’s progress. Through an assessment of certain key targets in educa­tion over the last five years, the report reveals critical system failures relating to data collection, the coordination and cooperation of govern­ment departments and other stakeholders, as well as severe legislative and policy gaps and im­plementation barriers.


It is widely acknowledged that progressive funding and efficient spending are needed to improve basic education outcomes.

However, South Africa has in fact shown regres­sive funding trends over the period under re­view. Amongst others, the DBE budget has de­creased in real terms over the past 5 years and per learner spending has declined by about 8% since 2010.

The report recommends that along with an in­crease in the allocations to basic education, allo­cations to basic education must keep pace both with other components of the Learning and Cul­ture budget and with inflation. In addition, the report recommends that provincial Education Departments (“PEDs”) must prioritise per-learn­er allocations made to no-fee schools so that national minimum thresholds for all quintiles are met. Further, the report recommends that norms and standards for resourcing must be adopted and must provide for all costs associat­ed with education.

The report reveals critical system failures relating to data collection, the coordi­nation and cooperation of government departments and other stakeholders, as well as severe legislative and policy gaps and implementation barriers.


Despite the fact that government has continued to assert that school infrastructure is a key priority and that “significant strides in addressing school infrastructure challenges” have been made, there has in fact been declining funding commitments to school infrastructure and a substantial fail­ure to implement binding legislative norms and standards over the past five years.

Budget and expenditure trends are indicative of government compromising the implementation of Infrastructure Norms and Standards. The re­port analyses the decline in allocations to both the School Infrastructure Backlogs Grant (“SIBG”) and the Education Infrastructure Grant (“EIG”), as well as chronic underspending by PEDs.

In addition, the report notes with concern the need for the courts to direct government to carry out its constitutional obligations. Over the period under review, the failure to ensure effective provi­sioning of school infrastructure resulted in various litigious challenges with the courts ultimately or­dering government to improve legal frameworks and ensure infrastructure delivery.

The report recommends more effective oversight mechanisms over provincial infrastructure spend­ing as well as coherent implementation plans to ensure that significant failures over the previous period are remedied.


The President recently announced the introduc­tion of two years of compulsory Early Childhood Development (“ECD”), a migration of ECD servic­es from the Department of Social Development (“DSD”) to the DBE, and an expansion of the Early Grade Reading Study (“EGRS”).

These developments must be assessed against the existing challenges to the provision of quality ECD services, namely the inability of government departments to effectively co-ordinate responsi­bilities, the lack of reliable and credible data and insufficient funding and capacity at national, pro­vincial and local government levels. Large-scale capacity building is required in national and pro­vincial departments and districts for the effective provision of ECD services.

Current trends in funding and expenditure of the ECD conditional grant pose an additional chal­lenge. The ECD conditional grant is effectively pro­jected to remain almost stagnant over the next three years.

In order to realise the proposed ECD develop­ments, it is imperative that National Treasury en­sure that the ECD conditional grant is increased in order to accommodate the expansion of ECD services.


Notwithstanding the introduction of the Nation­al Learner Transport Policy (“Learner Transport Policy”) published by the Department of Trans­port (“DoT”) in 2015, provisioning of learner trans­port is only superficially addressed in the DBE’s Annual Report and is not adequately catered for in government plans.

Challenges to implementing the Learner Trans­port Policy include the lack of seamless stake­holder co-operation and co-ordination, failure to adequately monitor implementation, the absence of a clear funding mechanism, and the lack of re­liable data. The failure to accommodate learners with disabilities is also of significant concern.

Recommendations for improving scholar trans­port provisioning include, amongst others, a pro­posal that guidance be issued on the uniform implementation of the principles contained in the Learner Transport Policy and that deliberate steps must be taken to clarify the exact roles and responsibilities of the DBE, the DoT and other stakeholders.


The report highlights, with concern, a failure to ac­knowledge or address current practices in schools which exclude learners at the point of admission.

Examples of these exclusionary practices include the refusal to admit undocumented learners, the difficulty parents face in finding appropriate placement and support for children experiencing barriers to learning, and the failure of schools to help parents when applying for fee exemptions.

The practice of denying learners with disabilities admission to ordinary schools instead of providing learners with reasonable accommodation has been highlighted as an ongoing and concerning practice.

The report makes specific recommendations in relation to each of these issues, including the re­view, clarification and monitoring of existing leg­islation and policies in order to effectively ensure that all learners’ rights to inclusion in education are protected.


In light of the various regressive trends and imple­mentation gaps identified, the report argues that key changes need to be made to the manner in which the DBE, as well as PEDs, other departments and National Treasury prioritise, plan and budget.

Education funding which maintains positive growth while keeping up with inflation is needed, alongside the eradication of factors which result in irregular and wasteful expenditure, as well as underspending of allocated funds.

The urgent implementation, according to uncom­promising timelines, of existing laws (and where required, the urgent clarification of or passing of binding laws) which provide for education re­sourcing, the delivery of infrastructure, and the removal of all barriers to education and learning is necessary.

The capacitation of district officials, School Gov­erning Bodies (“SGBs”), teachers, practitioners and other relevant role-players is required in or­der to facilitate implementation of binding laws.

Additionally, critical system changes must be put in place, including more effective and accurate data collection, consistent and meaningful coor­dination between government departments and other key stakeholders, and clarification of the roles and responsibilities of each department in delivering key outcomes.

As a new electoral cycle commences and a new administration gets ready to take the reins, this report offers a point of critical engagement with the challenges encountered by the outgoing ad-ministration and some proposals to reverse the regressive trends which have characterised the last five years.

The report offers a point of critical engagement with the challenges encoun­tered by the outgoing administration and some proposals to reverse the regressive trends which have characterised the last five years.

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