Court rejects bid to compel govt to fix 'dire state' of education

Thomas Hartleb, News24

Johannesburg – The Western Cape High Court has dismissed a bid to compel government to fix the "dire state" of basic education.

"In the early part of the judgment, he [Judge Nathan Erasmus] traversed the sad facts of the education system, and to that extent the judgment needs to be welcomed," the Institute for Accountability in Southern Africa’s advocate, Paul Hoffman, said.

While they had not received the full judgment yet, Erasmus had likely taken an "overly narrow" view of the court’s powers to interfere in government’s conduct, he said.

They would take instructions from their clients on whether to appeal the ruling.

The matter, brought by education activist Jean Pease and the Progressive Principals' Association, was argued before Erasmus in May 2014.

They argued that government had failed to meet its constitutional obligations. It had failed to get children to a level of functional literacy, failed to deliver textbooks and other teaching materials, failed to train teachers properly, failed to prevent teacher absenteeism, failed to prevent the marginalisation of the 10 official indigenous languages and failed to make available early childhood development services. There was also a lack of professionalism among many teachers.

They wanted the government to be ordered to correct these wrongs and present reports to the court on the steps it would take to do so.

There were 16 respondents, including the government, the basic education minister and education MECs of all nine provinces.

One of the applicants' arguments was that it was was illegal and unconstitutional for those teachers, who were ill-equipped to teach English, to teach the language to foundation phase pupils. The basic education minister was prepared to accept this as the norm in public schools.

There was a "material lack" of accountable management and unions appeared to be running the show.

Government opposed the application, saying it was legally and factually untenable. On the question of teaching equipment, teacher absenteeism and accountability, it said it had demonstrated in its court papers considerable measures to improve matters, including how to implement these.

Basic Education Department spokesperson Elijah Mhlanga said he had not spoken to the department's lawyers yet and and could not comment.