/ 29 May 2014

SAHRC report gives damning reasons for textbook shortages

Some pupils in Limpopo will do final exams without in-depth knowledge of their textbooks.
Some pupils in Limpopo will do final exams without in-depth knowledge of their textbooks.

Most provincial education departments do not know how many schools they have in their province, how many pupils there are in these schools and what language these pupils are taught in, the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) said on Thursday at the release of their investigative report on the delivery of primary learning materials to schools.

“The commission found that most of the departments did not have an accurate record of the number of schools in their province, the medium of instruction or the number of learners in each schools,” Commissioner Lindiwe Mokate said at a press briefing.

“Consequently, departments were largely unable to reconcile their supply records with delivery records.”

The report comes in the wake of the 2012 Limpopo textbooks crisis where thousands of pupils did not have textbooks five months into the school year. Parliament, in the same year, requested the commission to conduct an assessment of the delivery of learning materials in each province. 

The commission released a preliminary report on the problem in April last year and then began a “national investigative hearing” into it in May, which included interviews with education MECs as well as submissions from textbook service providers, teacher unions and rights organisation Section27. This report is the result of that hearing.

The report Mokate read from at the release said that there was “poor communication infrastructure for rural schools”.

“ … [T]he lack of modern modes of communication such as telephones, [fax machines] and internet access affected the ability of [rural] schools to communicate their orders, confirm deliveries and report shortages to their respective departments.” Having to physically go to departmental offices to communicate their orders “caused unfortunate delays and errors in the delivery of learning materials to learners”.

Similar report
This finding was similar to a discovery detailed in another report conducted in the wake of the 2012 crisis. A report compiled by a team lead by former higher education director general Mary Metcalfe and which aimed to verify textbook delivery in the province, also found that modes of communication hindered learning material delivery in the province.

It said that in the district offices visited by the team, “the shortage of basic office equipment such as computers, fax machines and internet connectivity completely undermines efficiency and effectiveness”, adding that “district offices must be provided with the necessary resources to communicate more effectively with schools, as a matter of urgency”.

The commission’s report also stated that, among other problems, “one of the biggest challenges affecting almost all nine provinces related to budget management”.

“In most provinces, the amount allocated to schools for the procurement of learning materials was consumed by the payment of staff salaries, often depleting that which was allocated for the procurement of [learning] materials.” 

The report recommended that an “independent national audit of [learning material] procurement and delivery system and process must be undertaken by the [national] department of education” and a “comprehensive data management system to track, record and update the number of schools and learners must be established”.

Mokate told media that it was “very important that the national department is able to at the press of a button know what is happening at a provincial level”.

The commission planned to present its findings to Parliament after which it expected “Parliament would require the relevant department to appear before Parliament and explain what they are going to do about the findings and recommendations”, said Mokate.