Metcalfe report leaves questions unanswered

"We are unable to make an accurate assessment of how many books have reached schools as yet since not all [proof of delivery notes] have been received and captured and we are concerned about the number of schools that report that they do not have the correct books – in quantity, in language, or with categories missing," the verification team said in a scathing report of the textbook crisis released on Monday by the basic education department and rights group Section 27.

Read the full report here

The investigation team, led by former higher education director general Mary Metcalfe, aimed at verifying how many textbooks Limpopo schools have received, attributed their failure to, among others, "the non-availability of school personnel" saying "further auditing of the delivery process will need to be undertaken".

The team set to work two weeks ago after Section27, the nongovernmental organisation whose court action in May exposed severe inaccuracies in official delivery statistics, and the basic education department agreed that an independent verification was necessary.

The team measured deliveries at 10% of the province's 4 000 schools under the watchful eye of unions, the Congress of South African Students, school governing body associations and the South African Principals' Association.

Although the team could not complete a full audit of deliveries it did present some "very concerning" findings.

Despite the department claiming, at a joint briefing with Section 27 on June 28, that approximately 98% of textbooks had been delivered to schools, Metcalfe's team found that "only 15% of the books had been delivered [on June 27]".

Using the data it does have, the team found that as of July 3 "only 48% of the books had been delivered to the schools, with 52% of the books still sitting in the district warehouse".

Although packaging of textbooks, paperwork and transportation takes about six weeks, "orders began to be placed with publishers for textbooks for Grade 1-3 and Grade 10 learners only in the first week of June".

Provincial chairperson of the Professional Educator's Unions, Maurice Petje, told the Mail & Guardian on Monday that many schools in the Capricorn district, where he is a principal, still do not have textbooks.

His school, Mahlatjane primary school, south of Polokwane "still has not one textbook" for its 476 pupils.

Mamongao Primary School nearby only has "one pack of books, meant for one learner, for each grade".

Another school, Matalale Primary School "has the same problem", he said.

The report stated that because of mismanagement of the textbooks budget, "funds made available for the procurement of textbooks was from the 2012/13 financial year".

Sections 27's director, Mark Heywood, questioned where the money to order textbooks for 2013 would come from.

"If provision is not made for the shortfall in the budget for these books [for 2013], which must be purchased before the end of this year, the department will simply be deferring the current crisis until next year."

He said the Limpopo education department was "rotten, riven with corruption" and called for the firing of provincial education minister Dickson Masemola.

The report also claims that 8.1% of the sampled schools reported not having learner teacher support materials, including textbooks, in previous years and that "warehouses belonging to the Limpopo education department have volumes of textbooks from previous years that have not been delivered".

Spokesperson for the department, Panyaza Lesufi, said the report adequately captured "the complexities of the section 100 intervention in the Limpopo province" which was instituted in December last year.

"We are aware that the non-availability of school personnel during the school holidays made it very difficult for the team to accurately verify and audit deliveries at school level," he said.

"The department of basic education is committed to continue with this process of verification."

Last week the M&G spoke to observers close to the verification process who said that Metcalfe's team would have to go back to schools after holidays.

"All of us at a meeting … told the team it would have to go back after the school holidays, because at many schools the boxes of textbooks are unopened and you can't tell if the right type of books or the right amount of books were received," said one observer, who requested anonymity, saying stakeholders had been told not to speak to the media.

Boxes of textbooks were being received by teachers and security guards because principals were away on holiday, he said.

"Some principals are not there because they are away on holiday, so the boxes are being locked in storerooms and are not opened," he said.

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