Textbook promise fails

Evidence wa ka Ngobeni

Most state schools will not have textbooks when they open their gates next week, despite promises from the Department of Education and President Nelson Mandela that delivery would be on track this year.

Five provinces approached by the Mail & Guardian said grades one, two and 12 will receive their books by March and the majority of their pupils will not get new textbooks this year.

The country’s 32 000 public schools have had their textbook budgets slashed by more than 70% in the past three years, and implementation of Curriculum 2005 is in jeopardy as it is resource-based.

Mandela promised in August that South Africa’s 12-million pupils would get their books within seven days of the start of the new school year.

The national Department of Education conceded this week that it does not have the financial resources to supply most schools with textbooks, despite an additional R200-million allocation from the Department of Finance last November.

In some state schools four or more pupils will once again share one textbook. The poorest schools canvassed this week said they had not received books which the education department promised to deliver by October 1998.

Books were still being printed this week. The chair of the Publishers Association of South Africa, Lindelwe Mabandla, said it was likely books would only get to schools by the end of March.

Mabandla said printers, publishers and booksellers are working at full production to meet a March deadline for the Curriculum 2005 resource materials. But publishers hope the situation will be better than last year when five provinces had no money at all for textbooks.

“We are all looking forward to a better supply of textbooks and quality education this year,” said Mabandla.

At Hlakaniphani Junior Primary school, in Soweto, principal Lizzy Mlangeni was expecting her books in October. Last year, grade four pupils shared a single textbook among them.

“The problem of textbooks is very frightening, particularly with the introduction of the Curriculum 2005,” said Mlangeni. “Many parents are not willing to buy textbooks as the government has promised them free books.”

Itemogele Junior Primary school, the only school in Protea Glen, has 50 textbooks for the entire school, which admits 1 300 pupils a year. “You have a situation where about five pupils share one textbook because of the shortage and that is why we want books desperately. The shortages here affect our pupils,” said Itemogele’s principal, Jabulani Mazibuko.

Siyavuma Primary school has not received one textbook since 1996, said principal Thoko Simelane. The school has about 512 pupils. “We only have old books at the school, and they are not even enough for three pupils,” said Simelane. “We have opted to use photocopies for the pupils.” The school does not have a photocopying machine.

The education department’s chief director of systems and co-ordination, Dr Chris Madiba, said this week his department needed additional funding to end the textbook shortfall.

The R200-million top-up to the R40- billion education budget has not assisted much, he said. Last year Minister of Education Sibusiso Bengu said his department needed R400-million to end the textbooks shortfall.

There has been a significant increase in the number of learners and this has put tremendous pressure on the education budget, said Madiba. About 400 000 new learners enter the education system every year and the high repeat rate also saps finances from a budget which has been cut in real terms.

Madiba said pupils who did not return textbooks contributed to the shortages. He was confident that in the provinces where there is a proper administration – to ensure textbook returns and “prioritisation” – schools will have enough.

The poorest schools in the country, in the Northern Province, have been hit the hardest. The province’s education representative, Benneth Matshane, said all its schools had not yet received textbooks. He said the distribution is being delayed because tenders were only offered to companies late in July last year.

Despite having budgeted about R48- million for textbooks this year, all grades except grade one and two will not receive textbooks in the Northern Province.

The position is the same in KwaZulu- Natal, which has a budget of R100- million for textbooks.

Mpumalanga and Free State have vowed to tackle the textbook shortfall with the funding from national government.

Free State education officials have promised that textbooks will be distributed to schools before the end of January, while in Mpumalanga they promised a 100% distribution of textbooks by the end of this week.

Madiba believes provinces need proper administration to solve this problem. He said the department prioritised grade 12 as it was considered important to alleviate the poor matric results across the country.

Representative for the Office of the President, Parks Mankahlana, said it is an education department policy that only grades one, two and 12 will receive textbooks this year. He added that there is no contradiction to what the department has implemented and the president’s promise to the nation’s scholars.

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