September 7, 2017

World Literacy Day and the right to an education

With World Literacy Day coming up, it is opportune to consider what an education means to a child. An education not only uplifts children, but allows for the development and fulfilment of their potential.

Ideally, every country in the world should have a 100% literacy (and numeracy, for that matter) rate, which means that every citizen in every country in the world should have the right to a basic education AND should have that right fulfilled. Sadly, this ideal is far removed from the reality.

In South Africa, our Constitution states that every citizen is entitled to a basic education. The obligation to provide basic education rests on the state as outlined in the South African Schools Act.

Sadly, the many reports that we see of poorly equipped and staffed schools, low pass rates, woefully insufficient spaces in schools, failure to deliver textbooks and the like demonstrate that our government falls short of fulfilling this obligation.

Some of these failings have brought about court action; in the case of Section 27 and 2 others vs Minister of Education the court held that the Limpopo Department of Education had breached learners’ rights to a basic education by not timeously supplying textbooks.

Whilst there are public schools that are failing miserably, there are really good fee paying public schools and private schools that do provide a world-class quality education. But these schools are providing education to their learners due to their contractual obligations; not in response to any constitutional duty. There are several court cases that have confirmed that private schools do not have a constitutional duty to provide education and that this duty rests on the state.

As a country we are a long way from the state being able to provide every citizen with a free (and quality) basic education, let alone the free tertiary education that some are clamouring for.

As we approach World literacy Day, I hope that our public and private sectors will partner to ensure that every one of our citizens CAN obtain a basic education.  The socio-economic problems facing our country and so many of its citizens are complex, but better education for more people will go a long way to alleviating poverty.

Author: Marisa De Aguiar

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