Rural Limpopo sold short on books

Grade 11s in Limpopo are among the worst hit by textbook shortages this year — and they are the very same pupils who were the prime victims of delivery problems in grade 10 last year.

A Mail & Guardian visit to schools in the province this week not only gave the lie to the basic education department's blank denials of any textbook problems but also revealed resentment among teachers about the department's punitive threats against talking about the shortages.

"What angers us the most is that [the department spokesperson Panyaza] Lesufi … shouts in public that the department has delivered all the books, while he should know this is not true," Matome Raphasha, the provincial secretary of the South African Democratic Teachers' Union told the M&G in his Polokwane office this week.

A teacher at Masedi, a secondary school in rural Botlokwa, about 50km from Polokwane, said: "What's crazy is that the department doesn't want to accept this reality. That is why [Lesufi] is so defensive. But, as teachers, we know there are no textbooks."

Teachers in another four schools in Botlokwa told of major shortages of grade 11 books. So too did Faan Visagie, the provincial manager of the Federation of Governing Bodies of South African Schools, who said grade 11 in particular faced "big shortages in critical subjects".

New curriculums are being introduced in grades four, five, six and 11 this year.

Not even half of what's needed
Another teacher in Botlokwa said: "I can assure you that, of the 18 schools in the Sekgosese cluster [where the Botlokwa schools are located], there's no school that has 50% of textbooks for any of the subjects offered."

Some grade 10 textbooks were delivered only this year, one teacher said. "The very same learners are starting grade 11 without textbooks. Does this mean their textbooks will be delivered when they are in grade 12? That's highly possible if we learn from what happened last year."

The "danger" was that it was their year before matric, said the teacher, who asked not to be named for fear of official retribution. "If they finish this year again without textbooks, will they be prepared for matric? This is why I feel I should speak to [the media] about this."

At Masedi, the records seen by the M&G showed that the school had received only five grade 11 textbooks for life orientation in December when the books were delivered. The school ordered 82.

The 82 grade 11 pupils in the school did not have enough textbooks for history, geography, accounting, business studies, Sepedi, maths literacy and consumer studies. But it did receive full supplies of books for ­economics and life science.

Huge deficit
"We gave it [the department] this number [82 for life orientation] in the requisition form last year, but it delivered only five. We're now short of 77. That's a huge deficit," said the teacher.

Schools in Limpopo's rural areas were most severely affected by the shortages, Raphasha said. "The department concentrated on reachable schools around towns and closer to the warehouses. It ignored the schools on the outskirts."

By late January, more than 140 schools had yet to receive their full complement of textbooks, Raphasha said. Some schools then fetched books from local warehouses and others received deliveries. But some were still waiting.

He said that, without textbooks, teachers struggled to complete the syllabus within the school year. "Teachers waste time making piles of photocopies and writing notes on the chalkboard. This is the time they should be using for teaching."

Visagie said his organisation had found 60 schools with shortages. "It is not that the trucks have not gone to schools. The real problem is that they didn't deliver all the textbooks schools ordered," he said.

Some of those schools were also still without the grade 10 textbooks they should have received last year. "It means that some classes have not had all their textbooks for two years now," Visagie said.

He said the federation's survey was confidential because it contained "reports from principals who fear being charged by the department".

Two weeks ago, Lesufi issued a release "strongly rejecting" the Democratic Alliance's claims of delivery problems. He also said the department would "take advice on the action that may be taken against" a school principal who complained of shortages.

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Bongani Nkosi
Bongani is an education reporter at the Mail & Guardian.

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