Refugees have an equal right to schooling

The Constitution guarantees everyone the right to basic education, and to equality. The United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees says refugee learners should enjoy the same education as nationals. But in South Africa, this is often not the case.

Grace* and her mother are from the Democratic Republic of Congo.

They have lived in South Africa as asylum seekers for about ten years, periodically renewing their asylum-seeker permits which allow for work and study in South Africa, and protect against deportation.

Grace completed her primary school education in the Western Cape and applied in good time for enrolment in grade 8 at her nearest high school, which happened to be the same one that her cousin Jeffrey* attended. Jeffrey was in the grade above Grace. His own application for enrolment was initially rejected, with the school citing a number of reasons, including that Jeffrey lived outside of the school feeder-zone (which was incorrect), a bad behaviour report from his primary school, and the fact that as a foreign national Jeffrey would probably struggle with the language barrier at the school, which was dual-medium. In truth Jeffrey, like many other young asylum seekers who completed primary schooling in South Africa, was able to understand and speak Afrikaans at his grade level.