Right to education is recognised

asidi2 Minister of Basic Education Angie Motshekga at the handover of Sophumelela Secondary School in Philippi. (Image credit: ASIDI)


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Sulaiman Philip

In the classic South African novel Cry The Beloved Country, Alan Paton wrote: “The tragedy is not that things are broken. The tragedy is that things are not mended again.” The beauty of Paton’s book, the rich history of South Africa’s culture – these are denied to too many South African children who are forced to learn in schools without libraries, or science and computer laboratories.

That schools exist with too few classrooms is, in some small way, an indication that South Africans have embraced their constitutionally guaranteed right to basic education. On 25 October this year, the minister of basic education handed over the 31st school rebuilt or refurbished for the year.

Sophumelela Secondary School in Philippi, outside Cape Town, specialises in maths, science and technology and now 1 134 pupils will go to school on a campus that matches their life goals. Built at a cost of R44.5-million, it has 30 new classrooms and eight specialist science and computer labs. The school was also designed using innovative green elements, including rainwater collection tanks and features allowing more natural light into rooms. This makes the entire school more energy efficient.

Education, the minister has said, holds the key to a better future for South Africans. “Education is the number one priority of [the] government and it is a weapon to break the generational poverty we have in South Africa. We are aiming to ensure that, in three to five years, all schools have the basic infrastructure to create an environment which is conducive to learning and teaching.”

The transition to democracy in 1994 handed the new government a bankrupt economy – although with promise – and an obligation to prioritise basic needs. Continued growth has given the country the economic resources to mend what needs fixing. Rural black African communities especially had to contend with the most basic infrastructure, such as schools without sanitation, electricity and water, or buildings built out of mud in communities desperate to provide education where the apartheid regime had deemed it unnecessary.

In response, the Accelerated Schools Infrastructure Delivery Initiative (Asidi) is the government’s programme to implement basic norms for a democratic South Africa.

Launched in July 2013 by Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga, the one-school-a-week programme will replace inappropriate structures with modern buildings to widen access to good basic education and reduce inequality. Since the launch of Asidi, 89 schools across the country have been rebuilt and refurbished.

asidi The ASIDI infrastructure programme is about creating environments for learning. (Image credit: ASIDI)

At the handover of Mandela Park Primary School in Mthatha, in Eastern Cape on that day, Motshekga explained that the programme existed in the spirit of Nelson Mandela’s passion for education, especially its importance to more needy communities.

Her department’s R8.2-billion infrastructure spend, falling under the Government Strategic Infrastructure Projects (SIPS), will replace 510 “mud schools” – the term used to describe mainly rural schools in disrepair and called “inappropriate structures” by the government; provide water and sanitation to 257 others; and electrify 878 for the first time.

There is no standard design template for the schools earmarked for rebuilding. Some will be rebuilt using traditional brick and mortar; others will be built using alternative construction methods.

A brick and mortar school costs in the region of R14.5-million, or R1.08-million per classroom. Using green construction methods, it costs R9.2-million, or R692 500 per room. Another advantage of using green building construction methods is speed: a new school can be completed within 14 weeks.

What the new schools all have in common besides enough classrooms for the enrolled students – to qualify for Asidi assistance a school must have a minimum of 135 students – is at least one science lab, a computer lab with laptops, a library and a nutrition centre.

Asidi is about more than brand-new schools, though. It is also about improving sanitation facilities and providing electricity. Close to a thousand schools countrywide were denied proper toilets, and access to water and electricity. The initiative has been correcting this injustice, and refurbished schools are counted in the one-school-a-week programme.

asidi1 ASIDI is about giving students the tools to compete in a global economy. (Image credit: ASIDI)

The design of these new schools enhances the learning experience, and not just the environment in which the children spend their days. A 2009 study by Statistics South Africa found that less than 25% of schools had a library, just 53% had computers and only 15% had access to tools as important as email and internet. Designs for all the Asidi projects include libraries, computer and science laboratories as well as security enhancements such as fencing, to help bridge the gap between a basic education and providing a well-rounded, modern and globally competitive standard of education.