Lindiwe Mokate of the SAHRC said that the right to a basic education is a constitutionally protected right that is unequivocally guaranteed to all children in South Africa.
• Isaac Mangena
SAHRC: Communications Coordinator
+ 27 11 877 3603
A charter on basic education has been drawn up to clarify the South African government’s obligation to provide quality education to children, and to track its progress.
The South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) has established its Charter of Children’s Basic Education Rights, and each year will measure progress against the charter using national and provincial data from Statistics South Africa, the Department of Basic Education and other research. While the charter is not legally binding on the state, it gives advice on how the state can meet its obligations, and will monitor its education delivery. South Africa is the third country in the world after Ireland and the United Kingdom to have a basic education charter.
Lindiwe Mokate, the commissioner for children’s rights at the SAHRC, said: “The right to a basic education is a constitutionally protected right that is unequivocally guaranteed to all children in South Africa. It is considered a central facilitative right that is not qualified by expressions such as ‘available resources’, ‘progressive realisation’, or ‘reasonable legislative measures’, which are applicable to other socio-economic rights enshrined in our Constitution.”
She added that it had increasingly been recognised at an international level that national human rights institutions were best placed to determine the monitoring indicators for economic and social rights given their independent nature and knowledge of local conditions.
“The charter provides a statement of the various obligations of the state to ensure the realisation of the right to basic education, notes key shortcomings and inequities, revisits commitments made to address the gaps in achieving quality education, and the key role players are identified,” said Mokate.
Aida Girma, Unicef’s representative in South Africa, said that the right to education was invaluable in attempts to eradicate poverty and tackle these challenges. “It is my hope that this charter will contribute to renewal of, and re-commitment to, quality basic education for all children in South Africa,” she said.
There are many underlying factors behind the poor quality of education and educational outcomes.
According to the SAHRC, these include: social and economic factors, such as poverty and low literacy levels and low levels of formal education in children’s families; insufficient levels of educational support at home; insufficient school infrastructure and basic services at schools such as water, sanitation and electricity; lack of learning resources and materials such as libraries, laboratories and text books; the cost of schooling; poorly trained teachers and teachers with insufficient subject knowledge; and lack of access to early childhood education, among others.
The charter is an informational and advocacy tool that will help a wide range of stakeholders know their rights and responsibilities.
The information in the charter provides an indication of what children, their parents and other caregivers may expect of the education system; an educational tool for parents and caregivers regarding the role they may be required to play so that children can enjoy their right to basic education; and a summative planning and monitoring tool for the departments of basic education regarding their respective obligations.
It also includes a planning tool for institutions of higher learning and the national Department of Basic Education for their roles and responsibilities in relation to improving the quality of teachers, teaching and learning in the classroom, among other things.
“Twenty years into the democratic dispensation we are still arguing about the norms and standards of education. Every child is entitled to a good education. We have spent time talking with little action as far as the child’s right to education is concerned,” said the SAHRC’s chairman, Lawrence Mushwana.
The charter includes:
- The availability of education: basic education must be made available by the state to all children;
- The accessibility of education: education must be accessible to all children;
- Acceptable education: the curriculum, teachers, teaching methods, educational outcomes and teacher and learner behaviour must be acceptable; and,
- Adaptable education: the education system must be inclusive, flexible and responsive to children’s different circumstances and learning needs.
Mokate added: “The charter provides a benchmark of where we are in terms of fulfilling the right to a basic education and where we need to go to ensure that every child receives an education.”