Money crisis means grades lacking textbooks this year could start 2013 without books again.
Limpopo pupils in the same grades affected by the textbook debacle this year are likely to be the main victims of similar problems next year because of unresolved financial difficulties in the province's education department.
The new curriculum was introduced in grades one, two, three and 10 this year and will include grades four, five, six and 11 next year.
But schools and publishers said this week there were still shortages of textbooks for grades one to three, yet the basic education department was ordering textbooks only for grades four to six and 11.
They referred to a departmental circular sent out in August that urged schools to order textbooks for grades four to six. Publishers added that the department "desperately" ordered grade 10 "top-up" textbooks this week - that is, more books to make up for shortages in recent deliveries - but not for grades one to three.
Meanwhile, opposition parties in Limpopo claim the department is still scrambling to find sufficient money to make up for this year's ongoing shortages and for next year's textbooks. Mokgadi Raganya, a Congress of the People (Cope) MEC, warned there would be a crisis next year because of the 2012 backlog and "we still don't have money to buy all textbooks for next year".
Raganya said the department spent more than R120-million of its R271-million 2013 textbook budget to buy textbooks in June. She and the Democratic Alliance's Desiree van der Walt said an education department report to Limpopo's education portfolio committee two weeks ago showed that funds had yet to be secured from the treasury.
This week, the non-governmental organisation Section27 took the basic education department to court for the second time in four months. On Monday, the organisation filed an application in the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria claiming many schools still needed textbooks. It asked the court to order the department to make up the shortfalls by the end of October.
The application seeks also to compel the department to implement a catch-up teaching and learning plan for the grades worst affected and to issue monthly reports on its progress in ordering and delivering textbooks for next year.
Section27 attorney Nikki Stein argued in her affidavit that it was not clear whether there were "any funds available" for buying new textbooks for 2013 and said the department had failed to respond to Section27's queries about this.
"The department can't just write off [textbooks that should have reached schools] this year. It would mean learners starting grades next year that are without textbooks this year will not have textbooks," Stein told the Mail & Guardian.
Publishers said the department had still not indicated whether it would buy top-up textbooks for the foundation phase grades, which was worrying. "The department ordered grade 10 top-ups [on Tuesday] and wanted deliveries to Polokwane [on Wednesday] - that's how desperate they are," said one.
Crying for textbooks
Another publisher, who confirmed receiving grade 10 textbook orders this week, said: "They didn't buy any primary school textbooks from publishing companies [in June]; they just bought [teachers' guides]."
A primary school principal in Giyani said she had ordered textbooks for grades one to three, although the department's circular had requested orders only for grades four, five and six. "We are crying for textbooks for those grades [one to three]."
Maurice Petje, Limpopo chairperson of the Professional Educator's Union and also principal of Mahlatjane Primary, confirmed claims that there were still shortages. "You find that a school with 100 learners only received 30 textbooks. The department has a lot of catching up to do in terms of supplying each child with a textbook [next year]."
A high school teacher in Nkowa-nkowa said: "The department never supplied enough textbooks. It bought whatever quantities just to silence principals. Schools now have to order books they never had, as top-ups."
Limpopo education department spokesperson Pat Kgomo said: "The latest information is that the procurement process is on track. We don't see any problem with getting textbooks next year, including top-ups where needed. It has never been denied that money used to procure textbooks this year was taken from the 2013 funds."
The national education department did not respond to the M&G's queries.