A textbook case of pupil dejection

A warehouse in Limpopo where textbooks are stored. Sadly, many of them have still not reached pupils who need them. (Luke Boelitz, M&G)

A warehouse in Limpopo where textbooks are stored. Sadly, many of them have still not reached pupils who need them. (Luke Boelitz, M&G)

"We need textbooks because some teachers can't teach and you don't understand what they are saying," said one of the Limpopo pupils at the centre of the province's delivery scandal this week. A matriculant at Millennium College in Seshego township outside Polokwane, she said: "At least you can rely on a textbook in subjects [taught by] such teachers."

She and three of her classmates spoke to the Mail & Guardian in a park in Seshego Zone 2 on Wednesday. Their classroom stories expressed pervasive discontent  among the province's pupils with public education.

Textbook shortages comprised their dejected refrain.
And even those who had books qualified their answers: "But they are not enough."

The Millennium pupils are less compromised than those studying the new curriculum — in the foundation phase and grade 10 this year — because they are using the textbooks they received last year. But the government's failure to deliver additional textbooks to schools has still left them short.

"Sharing textbooks makes studying difficult. We are in matric, for heaven's sake," said the matriculant. The subjects worst affected by book shortages in their "overcrowded" class include maths literacy and geography. "What makes sharing more difficult is the fact that we stay far from each other," one said.

But excitement lit up their faces when they talked about their geography teacher. "We don't even have one textbook for geography, but our teacher is so good, iyoh!" said one.

"He's a textbook himself. We are so fortunate to have someone who can actually teach. He is not even [too] lazy to write on the chalkboard."

This conversation took place just behind the former Mastec teachers' college, where the discovery of textbooks being shredded was made at the beginning of the week.

When the M&G inspected the site on Wednesday, there were still heaps of abandoned textbooks in a disused building in the college. Most of the books scattered in two rooms were in good condition, as were some near a spot where others appeared to have been burned.

Desiree van der Walt, the provincial leader of the Democratic Alliance, said most of the books dumped and destroyed related to syllabuses that were being phased out.

But the books could have been used, she said. "The [teaching] basics have not changed, even though we now have 'Caps' [the new curriculum]." They could also have gone to libraries, adult-education centres and old-age homes.

Purchasing then shredding
"Public money was used to purchase these books; now it is being used to shred them," she said.

In his office at Northern Muslim School in Polokwane, principal Lowe Kruger said the government was responsible for the province's public education debacle.

"It's unacceptable. Learners are at the short end of maladministration and things can't continue like this."

But he believed there was no need to panic over the matric prospects of grade 10 pupils who had gone without textbooks since January. "I don't think everything is lost," Kruger said. "We can still catch up. If not this year, we can catch up next year."

But Ronald Moroatshehla of the South African Democratic Teachers' Union said a high price would be paid in 2014 when this year's grade 10s wrote matric.

Speaking at Masopha Secondary School where he is the principal, he said catch-up programmes and extra classes should have started during the current holidays. But the department's failure to provide funds meant teachers would not play their part.

The basic education department's catch-up plan for grade 10 pupils does not include extra classes, the M&G reported last week.

Officials said 210 000 additional textbooks would be distributed for grade 11 and 12 pupils before the schools reopened. "These are top-up books for learners who have been sharing textbooks," said basic education director general Bobby Soobrayan.

Timeline of a crisis

December 2011

• The Limpopo education department is placed under section 100 (1)(b) national administration with four other provincial departments because of poor governance and financial mismanagement.

• Two week later, the Mail & Guardian breaks the news that thousands of Limpopo pupils will start the 2012 school year without new textbooks because the provincial education department had not ordered any.

January 2012

• Basic education department spokesperson Panyaza Lesufi says early in the month that textbooks will be ordered soon. But, in the third week, pupils start the school year without new textbooks.


• Ron Swartz, formerly head of the Western Cape education department and appointed as administrator of the Limpopo education department, resigns after only a month in the position, citing health reasons.

• Anis Karodia, a former head of the North West education department, replaces Swartz.

• Plans for ordering textbooks remain murky.  


• Karodia promises non-governmental organisation Section27 the textbooks will be delivered to all schools by mid-April.


• Karodia assures Section27 the deliveries will proceed through May and be complete by June 15.


• Section27 wins in the North Gauteng High Court when Judge Jody Kollapen rules that the education department must deliver textbooks by June 15.

• Minister Angie Motshekga claims the judgment is a victory for the department because Kollapen's deadline now coincides with Karodia's.

• Mzwandile Matthews, a chief director in the basic education department, is appointed the Limpopo department's new administrator.   


• The department misses the June 15 deadline.

• Motshekga announces that June 27 is the new deadline. She fires Karodia in May, because "I told [him] that if I come after Easter and find books have not been delivered, I will [fire] him", City Press reports. Karodia denies her version of events.

Bongani Nkosi

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