Computers still out of reach

The roll-out of the Teacher Laptop Initiative is being held up by teachers’ “lack of creditworthiness” and the national treasury’s reluctance to facilitate a stop-order arrangement for teachers to pay for the computers.

This was revealed to the Teacher by Dr Granville Whittle, spokesperson for the department of basic education. The laptop initiative forms part of the department’s plan to equip 400 000 teachers across South Africa with technological skills and to integrate the use of technology into the school curriculum.

The Teacher Laptop Initiative was gazetted by the former minister of education, Naledi Pandor, in early 2009. According to the gazette, the government undertook to pay a R195 subsidy to each teacher who qualified to receive a laptop. The package aims to cover internet connectivity, technical support and teacher training.

Teachers would get the laptops on credit and then settle the difference over a 24-month instalment period through a stop-order facility, according to the gazette. Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga took the process forward and earmarked April for the roll-out to kick off officially.

Motshekga announced this after she had provisionally accredited 13 laptop suppliers and secured crucial teacher unions’ buy-in through the Education Labour Relations Council. Whittle conceded that the delay was because of a “number of challenges”, chief among which is the “lack of creditworthiness” of teachers.

He said advancing the laptops to teachers on credit raised issues of “affordability and creditworthiness, which had to be addressed”. One way of dealing with this, he said, was for the department to provide guarantees to the suppliers that the money owed to them by the teachers would be collected through a stop-order facility, considered the most viable and secure way of collecting the monies.

But negotiations with the national treasury, the relevant department to process the stop-order facility, hit a snag. “After lengthy discussions, it was clear that, due to the nature of the transaction (structured the same way as the personal loan), the treasury would not allow access to a stop-order facility as such types of deductions had already been removed in the system due to previous abuse,” said Whittle.

Although alternative ways were being explored to overcome the problem, “there is nothing preventing educators from purchasing their ICT package from any reputable supplier—either with cash or on credit—but this applies to only those with good credit records ... and then apply for an allowance,” he said. The Sunday Times reported last month that Motshekga had confirmed during her recent briefing of Parliament on the initiative that the treasury would not accommodate their request and that this compelled her department to “redo our funding model”.

Bobby Soobrayan, the director-general of the department of basic education, sounded optimistic and said that, in principle, the treasury was not against the option. “However, the only difficulty they have is because the option is for teachers to pay it off over a number of years. [And] from a budget point of view, it becomes difficult to make that money available up front ... but the department remained committed to providing teachers with laptops,” Soobrayan reportedly said.

But teachers on the ground do not share Soobrayan’s sense of optimism. The Teacher has received several calls from angry and frustrated teachers who want to know when the laptops would be made available.

A Free State-based teacher, who did not want to be named, summed up their sentiments: “When we heard about this initiative, we were naturally ecstatic because it was going to enhance our teaching.

“I teach in a typical township school with no access to computers, let alone the internet. We waste a lot of contact time on filing, lesson plans, assessments and other related administrative tasks on paper. Laptops were going to save us a lot of time. Our learners are also disadvantaged because, when we give them research projects, they have to run around or travel to town to use the internet. The delay really kills our spirit,” he said.

Thabo Mohlala

Thabo Mohlala

Thabo reports for the Teacher newspaper, a Mail & Guardian monthly publication. Apart from covering education stories, he also writes across other beats. He enjoys reading and is an avid soccer and athletics fanatic. Thabo harbours a dream of writing a book. Read more from Thabo Mohlala

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