Education

Textbooks crisis: Price talks stall 2013 deliveries

Bongani Nkosi

A confidential report warns that the October deadline for 2013 material is unlikely to be met - leaving students in the lurch once again.

Eight of the country's provincial education departments run a

Eight of the country's provincial education departments run a "high risk" of failing to meet deadlines for the delivery of textbooks to schools for next year, warns a confidential departmental report obtained by the Mail & Guardian

Mathanzima Mweli, deputy director general for curriculum in the basic education department, presented the report at a council of education ministers meeting early last month. 

The deadline for delivery of 2013 textbooks is the end of October, the report says. But the Eastern Cape, Mpumalanga, Northern Cape and North West are at "high risk" of delivering books to schools only in December.

There is an equally high risk that another four – Gauteng, the Western Cape, Limpopo and KwaZulu-Natal – will deliver only by the end of November, the report says. The Free State is at "medium risk" of missing the October deadline.

Publishers, who asked not to be named, said it was unlikely that any of the provinces would deliver to schools by the end of October. Procurement processes have stalled because price negotiations between provinces and publishers are still taking place. 

'Unrealistic deadlines'
The department's deadlines had become "unrealistic because provinces were still struggling with placing orders by September", said a publisher. "All orders should have been finalised in August."

After the orders are placed, it takes between six and eight weeks for textbooks to reach the country's more than 25000 public schools, according to publishers. 

All pupils in grades four, five, six and 11 will need new textbooks because they will use the  new curriculum next year, whereas it was introduced this year in grades one to three and grade 10.

North West, KwaZulu-Natal, the Western Cape and Free State are yet to place their orders with publishers, according to sources in the industry. 

Mpumalanga is caught up in a price spat with publishers (See "Row now threatens Mpumalanga", Page 9) and procurement in the Eastern Cape has stalled over a dispute between the provincial department and self-managed schools (See "Battles over books causing ‘so many delays").

The Northern Cape will complete its orders during the last week of November, said publishers. Although the cash-strapped Limpopo is yet to finalise orders, the province has asked publishers to deliver textbooks to the provincial department's warehouse in Polokwane by October 12. 

The Limpopo education department, which remains under national administration, has already used at least some of its 2013 textbook budget to purchase this year's much-delayed books, Mweli's report suggests.

Publishers said price negotiations, which in Mpumalanga had reached boiling point, threatened timeous ­delivery. Provinces want discounts on textbooks.

The publishers said they were not able to grant such discounts because the prices in the national textbook catalogue already reflected 30% discounts. "The discounts provinces are requesting are impossible, because industry prices already include discounts," a publisher said.

Failure to meet deadlines
Mweli would not be drawn into a discussion on why the provinces would fail to meet the department's set deadline and, like its spokesperson, Panyaza Lesufi, also declined to comment on the discount problems that appear to have arisen in the prices negotiated by the department.   

Department officials told the M&G the report was an "internal draft" that was now "outdated". 

"The provinces indicated that their reports were not correctly captured [in the report], especially with regard to the availability of stock in warehouses, different prices per province, contracts in place, publishers agreements, et cetera," said Lesufi. 

"The heads of departments have since rectified the report. It was necessitated by the problems faced by the Limpopo education department. The department urgently needed reports from the provinces so as to avoid the Limpopo problem."

But neither Lesufi nor Mweli would shed light on whether the department had extended its deadline or the provinces would meet the original October deadline.

See our special report on the textbooks crisis at www.mg.co.za/curriculum


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