Ready to Learn?
Chris McConnachie 6th November 2013

South Africa’s Legal Resources Centre (LRC) launched a new bookReady to Learn? A Legal Resource for Realising the Right to Educationon 25 October at the Open Society Foundations in New York City (see press release here). Chris McConnachie explains the significance of this publication.

Followers of South Africa’s socio-economic rights case law will be familiar with the hard-fought legal campaigns over the rights to housing, healthcare, social assistance, water, and other goods.  The Constitutional Court’s judgments on these rights are studied around the world and the underlying legal strategies have been carefully dissected for lessons on how to litigate socio-economic rights effectively.

In contrast, the recent wave of education rights litigation has received limited attention outside of South Africa.  Most of these cases have settled before going to court.  Others have resulted in High Court judgments that have not been widely circulated.  Some cases have reached the Constitutional Court, but none has resulted in an authoritative judgment on the right to a basic education.  Education in South Africa still awaits its Grootboomthe path-breaking judgment on housing rights that cleared the way for further litigation.

The Legal Resources Centre (LRC), South Africa’s oldest and largest public interest law organisation, has been at the forefront of these efforts to secure the right to a basic education.  In a series of cases, the LRC has achieved settlement agreements and court orders requiring the national and provincial governments to:

• Commit R8.2 billion to the eradication of ‘mud schools’ and the improvement of school infrastructure across South Africa;

• Fill 7,000 vacant teaching posts in the Eastern Cape Province;

• Complete a comprehensive audit of Eastern Cape schools’ furniture needs and explain how each student will be provided with a desk and a chair;

• Publish binding norms and standards on school infrastructure – including adequate classrooms, electricity, water, sanitation, libraries, laboratories, sports and recreational facilities, and perimeter security – for all South African schools by November 2013.

Until now, information on these cases has not been easily accessible.  In Ready to Learn? A Resource for Realising the Right to Education, a new book available for free download, the LRC offers the first consolidated account of its work, including summaries of the key cases; extracts from court documents, judgments, and orders; and candid discussions of the strategies informing past and future cases.

This is an important resource for understanding the development of education rights litigation in South Africa.  It also offers lessons for lawyers and campaigners around the world in how to use courts to secure education rights.  The LRC’s work shows that litigation can achieve a great deal when it is properly planned and executed.  It is also a reminder of courts’ limitations in the face of government incapacity and intransigence.  As this book details, South Africa’s national and provincial governments have routinely failed to comply with court orders and settlement agreements, requiring the LRC and its partners to engage in patient negotiations, media campaigns, and further litigation to secure compliance.

In his foreword to the book, Dr Kishore Singh, UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Education, emphasises the need for lawyers and academics around the world to share their ideas and experiences in enforcing education rights. The LRC has benefited greatly from this shared knowledge in formulating its legal arguments and strategies. Ready to Learn more than returns the favour.

Ready to Learn? A Legal Resource for Realising the Right to Education is available for download here.

Chris is a South African DPhil candidate at Lincoln College, Oxford.

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