Legal Activism for Quality Education

Legal Activism as a means of improving government capacity to deliver quality education in South Africa: Opportunities and Limitations

Outside of the Department of Home Affairs and Department of Safety and Security (police services), the Department of Basic Education has seen an increase in the cases brought against it by parents, learners and public interest organisations. The main question is how successful has this litigation been in improving education delivery in the country and, if not, what have been the limitations in using the law or courts to improve service delivery in the areas of basic education.

Without question the challenges that face the South African education system are numerous; they are diverse in their ambit and the approaches that can be used to address them. The pressing issue of inequality pervades the system and challenges the ability to meet desired outcomes. For instance, some public schools are well resourced in terms of infrastructure and educational inputs, such as qualified educators and learning and support materials. Whilst others labour under severe strains such as dilapidated buildings and unsafe infrastructure, lacking adequate educational inputs. This inequality invariably leads to poor quality outcomes if we define quality education as a measure of what you put into and what you get out of the system.

Since 2012, when Section 27 took the Department of Education to task over text book delivery in Limpopo, the National Department and the Provincial Department have been taken to court over the provision of educators in the Eastern Cape. Prior to that the same department was taken to court over the eradication of mud schools. Between 2012 and 2013, the grassroots movement, Equal Education, spearheaded their campaign for norms and standards. In the same year the Eastern Cape Department of Education was taken to court by a group of learners who alleged that the department had failed to ensure that the quality of education received at their rural school was adequate. They argued that their principal was mismanaging the school, educators were not motivated to attend class, they lacked essential teaching and learning materials, their governing body was ill equipped to hold the principal accountable and, as a result of all this, they were not reaching their academic and personal potential.

This panel explores the opportunities and limitations of litigating in the sphere of education, focusing on the realm of underperforming schools as an indicator of poor quality education.

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