Still without textbooks by Wednesday this week, pupils at Mahlatjane Primary School in the remote Limpopo village of Ga-Mafefe marked Nelson Mandela Day by cleaning the school's gardens.
When the Mail & Guardian visited the school this week, principal Maurice Petje vividly described the difficulties faced by his foundation-phase pupils and their teachers.
Teachers have photocopied pages from textbook samples they received from publishers at the beginning of the year. "You are teaching grade one learners about colours, but the photocopy comes in black and white," said Petje. "That's how information becomes distorted. It will affect comprehension in the long run. Learners need to understand how to interpret books from grade one."
Last weekend, Petje — who is also provincial chairperson of the Professional Educators' Union — received an SMS from a district official: "Pls arrange with someone to receive books at ur school 2moro on Sunday. It's the last day. We bank on your co-operation."
Sunday was the day before pupils in Limpopo arrived to start their third term. Petje said he expected that those delivering the books would contact him again on Sunday morning to conclude the arrangement, but this did not happen.
Communication resources poor
Because Mahlatjane Primary, about 100km from Polokwane, has neither a telephone nor a fax machine, Petje's cellphone is the only link between the school and the education authorities.
Workbooks are available for each pupil, but these do not fill the gaps left by textbooks. "You can try writing on the chalkboard, [and] we also give them copies, but without pictures [in textbooks], learners do not understand what you are talking about," said a Mahlatjane teacher. "We're still teaching the old curriculum because we don't have Caps [the new curriculum] textbooks. We're trying to teach Caps using only the samples we got from the publishers."
At the neighbouring Nokotlou Secondary School, matric students had received some "top-up" textbooks, the basic education department's term for the extra books promised when it emerged that many Limpopo schools lucky enough to receive any books at all did not have enough for every pupil.
Matric English textbooks have been in acute short supply at Nokotlou Secondary since the year started, the M&G learned.
"It's better that I now have my own textbook for English. I won't have to share anymore," said Mmathabo Masenya, a matric student.
The department earlier promised that 210 000 additional textbooks would be distributed to grades 11 and 12 pupils before schools reopened this week ("A textbook case of pupil dejection", M&G, June 29).
Three grade nine pupils at Nokotlou said they had sufficient textbooks for only five of their nine subjects. "We share the textbooks in class and our teachers also make photocopies for us," said one.
Shortage of top-ups
Mahlatjane Primary is also hard hit by the shortage of top-ups: its grade seven pupils do not have any textbooks for English and Sepedi.
The school has 25 textbooks for social sciences in grade 5, less than half the 57 it ordered.
Petje said some books were lost through poor retrieval systems, but many were simply worn out. "It's been a long time since we received top-ups for grade seven English and Sepedi," he said.
Textbooks that were supposed to be delivered in previous years are still stockpiled in warehouses in Limpopo, Mary Metcalfe's independent delivery-verification report released on Monday found.
The basic education department "must urgently arrange for a thorough audit of these books and deliver these to those schools most in need, or to school and community libraries", the report said.