Most public schools still lack workbooks

Seventy percent of the country’s public schools are still without important workbooks because of a “patchy” delivery process.

The Mail & Guardian was alerted this week to the fact that workbooks—exercise books that the basic education department introduced to improve literacy and numeracy performance in various grades—have not been delivered to hundreds of schools.

Principals confirmed that distribution was fraught with problems, including the delivery of insufficient materials. This problem has existed for two consecutive years—in 2011 schools battled against shortages of workbooks throughout the year.

The M&G reported in January 2011 that irregularities were suspected in the multimillion-rand tender awarded to Lebone Litho and its partner, Paarl Media.
Lebone Litho then had family ties to basic education director general Bobby Soobrayan. The joint venture won the tender again later in the year and is responsible for printing and delivering the workbooks to 19 000 schools.

Education department sources familiar with the production and distribution process of the workbooks said district officials had been inundated with calls from schools inquiring about deliveries, but they were also in the dark.

A Gauteng district official told a source in one email that she had “been bombarded with calls daily from schools” because they had not received their mathematics workbooks. “Last year, [the schools] had shortages throughout the year. I sincerely hope we not going to have a situation like that this year.”

The source said the books were a “magnificent intervention that is now being hampered by incompetence. Delivery is very patchy throughout the country.”

In a circular sent to principals on Wednesday, the Tshwane south district informed them that the delivery date of workbooks had been “changed, due to unexpected delay caused by new materials to be developed and printed”.

The head of a Pretoria primary school, who is active in a regional principal’s association, said no schools in the district had new workbooks.

“The department wants teaching to start as soon as schools reopen, but it fails to deliver important books on time,” he said.

Another principal, in Mpumalanga, told the M&G that neither workbooks nor new textbooks had been delivered to the school this year. “We wrote to the district about workbooks, but there has been no response,” the principal said.

Slow delivery prompts school to postpone workbook roll-out
The principal of a North West primary school said sparse delivery had compelled her primary school to postpone the roll-out of workbooks for the term. “They are delivering bit by bit. The workbooks we have now are not enough, which is why children and teachers have not started using them. The problem is that every pupil needs his or her own workbook; you can’t give them to some and not to others. Last year we had the same problem. They didn’t deliver enough.”

The deputy principal of a school in the Northern Cape with more than 1 500 pupils said the absence or late delivery of workbooks would “affect our ANA [annual national assessment] results negatively again this year” because “children go through the books that they have, but in the assessment something different crops up”.

“Natural science workbooks were not delivered at all last year and this year no workbooks have been delivered,” she said.

“The workbooks are important because they guide teachers on activities that they need to carry throughout the term,” said a principal in Mbombela, Mpumalanga, who pointed out that she refused to accept a delivery of insufficient workbooks last week.

Keith Michael, the owner of Lebone Litho, declined to comment. “I’m not interested in talking to you guys. Go talk to [the department], thank you,” he told the M&G before ending the call.

The department admitted the delay in the delivery of the books, which should have reached schools by January 31. Granville Whittle, an executive in the department, confirmed that about 70% of the country’s schools had no workbooks.

“All books will be delivered by February 13. In some provinces we have had massive flooding and significant damage to roads and other infrastructure.”

Whittle denied claims that delivery was also poor last year.

Bongani Nkosi

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