While there are still schools in Limpopo reporting textbook shortages for this year, these shortages are a far cry from the crisis we saw in 2012. With the start of the 2014 school year, SECTION27 has again been monitoring textbook delivery across Limpopo as part of its work on the right to basic education. By NIKKI STEIN.
In 2012, the media was awash with reports of non-delivery of textbooks to Limpopo schools. SECTION27 first learned in January 2012 of the failure by the national Department of Basic Education (DBE) and the Limpopo Department of Education to procure textbooks for 2012, particularly for learners in Grades R, 1, 2, 3 and 10 starting a new syllabus. Four months later, and after numerous letters to these Departments, there was still no sign of these textbooks in schools, and no indication as to when these books would be delivered. In May 2013, we had no choice but to go to court to compel textbook delivery and to put in place a catch-up plan for Grade 10 learners.
It seemed absurd that we were forced to go to court over such a basic element of the right to basic education. How could the DBE possibly justify its failure to procure textbooks and ensure that learners had the materials they needed? Resolving the problem should have been a simple case of ordering the necessary textbooks and ensuring their urgent delivery to schools.
Eventually, it took three court orders before we saw significant movement on textbook delivery to Limpopo schools for 2012. For many learners, it was too late. The academic year was over. Some learners had not even received their textbooks by the time schools closed.
The textbooks crisis in 2012 was complicated by a constant denial that there was a crisis. Despite complaints of non-delivery of textbooks pouring in, the DBE continued to insist that all learners in Limpopo had received their textbooks. As a result, it became increasingly difficult to resolve textbook shortages, and to do so with the minimum interruption to the education of learners affected by these shortages.
This came at a high cost to Limpopo learners. At the end of the 2012 school year, many learners wrote exams without access to their prescribed learning materials. The court-ordered catch-up plan developed for Grade 10 learners to close the gaps created by the lack of textbooks could also not be implemented properly, because delivery of textbooks for 2012 was never completed.
Anticipating further problems with textbook procurement and delivery in 2013, SECTION27 sought a court order in October 2012 imposing a deadline of 15 December 2012 for delivery of textbooks for the 2013 school year. The court order was granted, and all eyes were on the DBE to see whether there would be an improvement on delivery of this basic entitlement.
At the start of 2013, there was an improvement in textbook delivery. There were, however, still widespread shortages of textbooks. Schools reported that they were receiving the wrong textbooks, or the correct textbooks in the wrong languages. The quantities of textbooks delivered to them in many cases did not correspond with their enrolment figures. And there were long delays between reporting textbook shortages and receiving the outstanding books. Some schools again never received their full complement of textbooks for 2013.
It became clear during the course of 2013 that the data used by the DBE to plan textbook procurement and delivery was wildly inaccurate. At one stage, the DBE did not even have accurate data as to how many schools and learners there were in Limpopo. The procedures in place to report textbook shortages were also so complex that many of these reports did not reach the relevant officials, and the shortages were never addressed.
This inaccurate data, coupled with a continued denial by the DBE that there were textbook shortages, continued to stand in the way of the education of Limpopo learners. Although 2013 saw an improvement in textbook delivery, there was still a way to go until the right of every learner to his or her own textbook for every learning area could be realised.
In 2014, we again saw a significant improvement in textbook delivery. Of the 80 schools contacted by SECTION27, almost two thirds reported that they had received all of their textbooks for 2014. However, there is still no independent system to monitor textbook delivery across Limpopo and this is crucial to accurately identifying all shortages and ensuring that they are corrected.
While delivery of textbooks is not complete, there seem to be serious efforts on the part of the DBE to resolve shortages. The DBE has emphasised the importance of textbooks as central to the right to basic education. They have undertaken to deliver outstanding textbooks without delay, so as to ensure minimal interruption in the education of Limpopo learners. If they resolve these shortages immediately, and use the information gathered to strengthen their systems and improve on them for 2015, we will continue to see improvements in textbook delivery from year to year, towards realisation of the right to basic education.
If not, violation of the core of this right will continue.
What does this require of school governing bodies, parents, learners and communities? Report your textbook shortages and continue to follow up on them until every learner at your school has his or her own textbook for every subject. Textbooks are part of your right to education. You are entitled to demand full realisation of this right. Do not settle for any less. DM
Photo by Werner Beukes/SAPA
"A long habit of not thinking a thing wrong gives it a superficial appearance of being right and raises at first a formidable outcry in defence of custom. But the tumult soon subsides. Time makes more converts than reason." ~ Thomas Paine