The Education Rights Project

The Education Rights Project (ERP) was formally launched by the then UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Education, Katarina Tomasevski, education activists and scholars in 2002. The key components of the project are participatory action research, community involvement, policy advocacy, scholarly research and publications. To date CERT has published 21 popular education booklets affiliated with the ERP.

The ERP strategy for mobilising communities to advocate for education rights embodies principles of organic participation, organisational partnership and community leadership. Firstly, the ERP builds a relationship with community-based civil society organizations in a non-sectarian manner while cognisant of local democratic structures and context. Such partnerships have included social movements, progressive non-governmental organisations, teacher unions, and youth/student and parent’s organisations. Secondly, in collaboration with the partner organisations the ERP develops a popular education and mobilisation plan for the specific community. This plan usually begins with mass meetings or public hearings on the community’s rights to, in and through education which is often followed by an education rights workshop in the community focusing on quality public education.

Hosted by the civil society/community-based partner, the education rights workshops address the legal rights of learners, parents and educators while focusing on the problems expressed by the community and the formation of an action plan for addressing these challenges. Plans differ from community to community but in all instances include advocacy; legal literacy; communication with state and statutory structures; pertinent civil society organizations as well as teacher unions, school governing bodies and parent or student organizations.
The ERP acts as a facilitator for communities to define their own barriers to free, quality public education and subsequently to define their own strategic plan. The ERP also partners communities with specialised interest groups, academics and others knowledgeable in the different areas of concern to communities, while emphasizing that the nature of this relationship is both democratic and dialogical.

Much of the ERP’s work takes place outside the office or courtroom in a diverse range of rural and urban communities across South Africa.

The ERP’s community work aims to:

  • assess whether and how school conditions in the communities the ERP works with violate their learners’ right to basic education
  • address individual cases of rights violations where necessary
  • inform parents and learners of their rights under existing education legislation and policy
  • engage communities in a critical dialogue on school conditions, government education policy,
  • the Constitution and the right to basic education
  • test the limits of rights-based strategies for social change and
  • provide, where appropriate, support for litigation under the right to basic education

The ERP initiates its work with communities through workshops hosted in partnership with social movements and civil society organisations. Workshops provide ideal opportunities for people to assemble, be informed of their rights, articulate their needs and demands, and formulate a plan of action to access the right to basic education. These events often provide a springboard for longer-term interventions, involving advocacy, participatory research, or litigation. Workshops are designed to empower communities to do their own research and to determine and drive their own strategies for change through a PAR process. Under the PAR model, the ERP works collaboratively with members of community-based partners to develop and implement a research plan. When the research is complete, the community has produced an advocacy tool, and they have acquired the requisite skills to complete further research as needed. In other cases, education rights workshops lead immediately to various forms of advocacy, including direct intervention with school administrators, governing bodies, and local or provincial state education structures. Many education rights violations occur and must be handled on a student-by-student basis therefore the community strategy will often include further training for residents who will handle rights violations through departmental and legal channels. The most important aspect of the ERP’s popular education and mobilisation strategy is the organic participation and control of community members and partner organisations over the process which aims to build lasting empowerment to combat the small and large scale barriers to free quality public education.

The ERP has conducted workshops across the country with several thousand members of organisations from marginalised communities. The booklets are based on issues raised by communities at the various ERP workshops throughout the countries include areas such as the cost of education; HIV and AIDS; disability; sexual harassment; school governing bodies; and language and religious rights. CERT will continues developing, translating and distributing the booklets as an educational and organising tool for community, social movements, trade unions and in a few instances, provincial education departments.

The development of accessible booklets on education rights with scores of community organisations through popular education methods have been an important contribution and serves as an educational and organising tool for community, social movements and trade unions. The booklets are also used by district and provincial officials of the Departments of Basic Education and Higher Education. They are designed to access the legal framework of South African public education in key areas of consistent rights violation. The following booklets have been produced (Free booklets downloads)

  • Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Rights in Education,
  • Facilitating Literacy: A Handbook for Community-Based Literacy Workers.
  • Environment and Education: Rights and Responsibilities.
  • School Nutrition and the Rights of Learners.
  • Racism and Education.
  • The Right to Adult and Community Education he Right to Adult and Community Education
  • HIV/AIDS: The Rights of Learners and Educators
  • Sexual Abuse and Rape: The Rights of Learners and Educators
  • The Education Rights of Refugees, Asylum Seekers and Migrants
  • Language Rights and Schooling
  • Religion and Schooling
  • School Governing Bodies: Rights and Responsibilities
  • Admission Policy: Your Rights
  • Corporal Punishment and Bullying: The Rights of Learners
  • Disability and Schooling
  • The Right to Early Childhood Education.
  • Children’s Right to Education in Hospital.
  • Reading Clubs and Community Literacy.
  • Youth Unemployment: Understanding Causes and Finding Solutions-Reflections on Education, Skills and Livelihoods.
  • Work: Hope and Possibilities
  • Privatisation of Schools: Selling out the right to quality public education for all
  • Worker Education
  • Neville Alexander and Education