The education department is drafting a new plan to equip teachers with laptops after funding for the initial project was spent on salaries instead.
The department of basic education will meet with provincial counterparts this week to plan a way forward after reports emerged that the teacher laptop initiative (TLI) has collapsed.
The New Age reported on Tuesday that the R500-million that was budgeted for the project by the department for the 2009/2010 financial year was spent on teacher’s salaries.
The scheme aimed to provide more than 350 000 government school teachers with laptops in order to aid the teaching process.
Managed by the Education Labour Relations Council (ELRC), the scheme was to roll out an information and communications technology (ICT) package consisting of a laptop, software, internet connectivity, insurance and finance to the teachers.
Teachers qualifying for the laptop were to receive a taxable monthly allowance of R130 and personally fund the rest of the package, which was predicted to cost between R250 and R390 a month over five years.
The teachers would then take ownership of the laptop once repayments were settled.
It is still unclear why the original plan failed, but a substantial number of teachers standing to benefit from the programme were not deemed creditworthy and could not take part.
It is also alleged the basic education department did not have the necessary guarantees from treasury to fund the deal.
Despite the issues surrounding the now-defunct plan, basic education department spokesperson Panyaza Lesufi assured the Mail & Guardian that the TLI had not been scrapped.
“There is a new approach in the offing. Minister [Angie] Motshekga is consulting with unions tomorrow [Wednesday] before a meeting with provincial ministers on the matter,” Lesufi said.
Lesufi could not divulge details of the proposed rescue plan, but did mention it would mean “less credit profiling on educators”.
Teacher unions welcomed the news of attempts to continue with the TLI implementation but said there should be better planning and management of the process in future.
“We propose that the department of basic education must secure adequate funding and treat the laptop as tools of trade for each educator. This five years of paying for the laptop defies any logic, economically speaking,” said the general secretary of the South African Democratic Teachers Union (Sadtu), Mugwena Maluleke.
The president of the National Professional Teachers’ Organisation of South Africa, Ezrah Ramasehla, told M&G that any agreement must be adhered to and agreed to by all parties.
“We are worried this process has been stalled and we hope that everyone involved will find a solution agreeable to everyone—which includes the treasury coming to the party with funding,” he said.
The Democratic Alliance’s spokesperson for basic education, Dr Wilmot James, sharply criticised the department for using designated TLI funds for salaries.
“That is an absolute disaster if that’s true and a prime example of bad governance. Nonetheless, the initiative is an important way of getting ICT into the classroom and we continue to support it,” he said.
James said educators should pay a portion towards the laptops they receive, but is sceptical about providing laptops on credit.
“If someone is blacklisted, it’s even more reason not to give them something for free,” he said.
On whatever terms TLI is rolled out, Lesufi said the project was a vital component of the government’s plans to improve education.
“Our education system needs to move to the next technological level and there is no way we can be stuck to the stone-age method of using chalk and chalkboard,” he said.