Now that textbooks are finally getting delivered in Limpopo, the two parties at loggerheads have reached an understanding. It’s unlikely to survive for very long if the lessons of the past six months are not learned. By SIPHO HLONGWANE.
In March, following a court application by Section27 to compel the department of basic education to deliver textbooks to schools in Limpopo, it was agreed that all books would be delivered by 27 June.
On Thursday afternoon, representatives of Section 27 and the department met at the NGO’s headquarters in Braamfontein to present a joint public statement.
The department promised to provide Section 27 with written updates of the progress of delivery, a circular would be issued on Friday to ask all school principals to receive textbooks at schools and that the catch-up plan ordered by the North Gauteng High Court be implemented without further delay.
Grades 1 – 3 and Grade 10 were the affected school levels. According to the DBE report sent to Section 27 on Thursday, all grade 10 textbooks have now been sent to the schools, and 99% of textbooks owed to the lower grades have been sent.
The process has not been without problems.
“Both the DBE and Section 27 are concerned about reports that books may not have reached all schools and want to encourage everyone with information in this regard to report shortages of textbooks so that this can be investigated and corrected where necessary,” the joint statement said.
“The parties are also concerned that the information in the progress reports provided to the DBE and forwarded to Section 27 may not be accurate.
“The parties have agreed to appoint a jointly agreed independent competent capacity to do an audit and evaluation of deliveries,” the joint statement said.
According to Bobby Soobrayan, the director-general for the department, the failure to deliver all textbooks on the agreed-upon date is because of a lack of co-operation from third-party service providers who were hired to deliver the books.
“For some reason or another, some distributors who had been regular in collecting and distributing to schools from the warehouses, many of them did not pitch up yesterday, especially from the Capricorn District, for the mop-up exercise set in motion. In such instances, after repeated unsuccessful calls reminding the distributors to come and collect their consignments, UTI and the Limpopo department of education vehicles were brought in to deliver the textbooks to the schools,” Soobrayan said.
The director-general repeatedly denied that the textbook saga in Limpopo was a result of incompetency at the national level. It is the fault of Limpopo rather, he said, because they control the buying of textbooks. He was also critical of “some” principals, who apparently refused to arrive at the schools to open them when the textbooks arrived.
Soobrayan was unclear about what would happen to people who have been stumbling blocks in the catch-up process, except to say that the department did not view the situation as confrontational or punitive. There’s a good chance that no one will get punished for this mess.
Mark Heywood, the executive director of Section 27, conveyed the sense that he was unimpressed with the department’s efforts. In spite of Soobrayan’s contention, he lashed national government for failing to communicate properly to the province and to schools.
“There’s an arrogance and lack of concern for schools (from the department),” Heywood said.
He also urged Soobrayan and the department’s spokesman, Panyaza Lesufi, to visit Limpopo as ordinary citizens to gauge for themselves the seriousness of the situation.
Section 27 is demanding that the independent auditor file a report on the delivery of textbooks by 6 July. The joint statement of the NGO and the department will be filed with the North Gauteng High Court for its own records.
The textbook delivery company EduSolutions must also be investigated, Heywood said.
The Democratic Alliance in Limpopo has also demanded that the company be probed. Education spokeswoman Annette Lovemore said: “The Limpopo government irregularly awarded a R320-million contract to EduSolutions for textbook provision to Limpopo schools. The evaluation and specification committee was ignored at the time the contract was awarded.”
According to Lovemore, basic education minister Angie Motshekga has had a suspect relationship with EduSolutions since her days as an MEC for education in Gauteng.
Though the department has finally seemed to arouse itself from its slumber, it did take a court application from an NGO to get anything to happen. The crisis has also now pitted the government against civil society, and against teacher unions, who are demanding extra pay if they are to provide extra tuition classes as part of the catch-up programme. The matter could be headed for yet another showdown as the unions rightly point out that it isn’t their fault they couldn’t teach properly for six months.
Soobrayan said the department would be conducting a study to understand what the systemic problems were, in order to ensure that a repeat of this disaster did not happen. He assured reporters that the plan for the textbooks for 2013 – which normally take 10 months to produce and deliver – was already underway. DM
Photo: Basic education deputy director general Themba Gojana, director general Bobby Soobrayan, department spokesman Panyaza Lesufi and SECTION27 executive director general Mark Heywood. DAILY MAVERICK/Sipho Hlongwane
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