No time to make decent textbooks

New textbooks the government will distribute to public schools in 2016 are almost certain to be lack academic quality, publishers have warned.

This is because Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga’s office has insisted on giving publishers just three months to produce the books.

For a process that usually takes a year, the department told publishing groups last month they had until January 16 to submit their manuscripts to compete for selection.

The department’s invitation to publishers, which the Mail & Guardian has seen, reads: “The closing time for submissions will be strictly adhered to. Late submissions will not be accepted and will not be screened or considered for inclusion in the national catalogue.”

The Publishers’ Association of South Africa subsequently made a submission to the department, highlighting its members’ concerns about the “short timeframe”.

The association warned of the consequences of preparing textbooks within a quarter of a year.

“A period of three months is certainly not enough time to produce quality materials, especially keeping in mind that during December all printers are closed and freelance writers, translators and editors are on leave,” it said.

“The quality of the products submitted is directly affected by the amount of time publishers have to prepare the materials. The longer we have, the better.”

Plea ‘fell on deaf ears’
Mpuka Radinku, the association’s executive director, told the M&G this week their plea “fell on deaf ears”.

“They didn’t address most of the questions,” he said, and the three-month deadline “still stands”.

Radinku said “what was really disturbing” was that the department had known for more than a year that new textbooks were required to complement the new Curriculum and Assessment Policy Statement curriculum.

“We’ve always pleaded with the department to give us enough time to be able to produce the best books for children. But when they finally implement they give us the worst and shortest time.

“It takes time to produce good-quality books,” Radinku said.

“Even in September [this year] we said to them, ‘Give us time so that we can research and develop the best books.’”

These are books for grades 10 to 12, as well as grade R, and are due to be delivered to schools after June next year for their use in 2016.

The association’s letter said grade R materials, “which are the foundation of all learning in the 12 years of schooling to follow”, stand particular risk of poor quality.

Set up for failure
The African Publishers’ Association told the M&G this week that it had opted to go along with the department’s mandate, “which is taking books to schools”.

“The period obviously caught us by surprise; we were slightly off-guard. But we are in the process of developing these materials in line with what the department wants.

“Time will determine quality. But I wouldn’t say [in this instance] it would absolutely kill quality because there might be someone who’s got more resources and who can produce,” said Eddy Phaswana, the association’s treasurer.

Speaking on condition of anonymity for fear her company could be targeted, a publisher belonging to the Publishers’ Association of South Africa said they were being set up for failure.

She said publishers had in effect been given “six weeks to write, proof, edit, illustrate and produce” the books.

“This is a process that needs a year. Even six months can help, but not six weeks. It is not enough time to produce a book. It makes it impossible to complete and to enrich that publication.”

She said she suspected the bidding process was a façade and the department was advertising “just to make it formal. This is for publishers who’ve had specifications [from the department] for a long time and done the work already.”

Another publisher urged academics “to weigh in”.

“They are ending up with having to deal with students entering tertiary education ill-prepared to handle any independent research,” the publisher said.

Elijah Mhlanga, the department’s spokesperson, declined to respond to questions the M&G had sent him.    

“We are not going to engage the Publishers’ Association of South Africa through the media. Instead we will use the appropriate platforms to address any issues they might have,” he said. – Mail & Guardian

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever. But it comes at a cost. Advertisers are cancelling campaigns, and our live events have come to an abrupt halt. Our income has been slashed.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years. We’ve survived thanks to the support of our readers, we will need you to help us get through this.

To help us ensure another 35 future years of fiercely independent journalism, please subscribe.


READ IT IN FULL: Ramaphosa’s address on the extension of...

This is the full address given by President Cyril Ramaphosa on April 9

Meet the doctor leading Africa’s fight to contain the coronavirus...

Dr Matshidiso Moeti’s father helped to eliminate smallpox. Now she’s leading Africa’s efforts against the coronavirus

Stella set to retain her perks

Communication minister will keep Cabinet perks during her two months of special leave

Covid-19 grounds Nigeria’s medical tourists

The country’s elites, including the president, travelled abroad for treatment but now they must use the country’s neglected health system

Press Releases

Rahima Moosa Hospital nursing college introduces no-touch facial recognition access system

The new system allows the hospital to enrol people’s faces immediately, using artificial intelligence, and integrates easily with existing access control infrastructure, including card readers and biometrics

Everyone’s talking about it. Even Kentucky

Earlier this year South African fried chicken fast-food chain, Chicken Licken®, launched a campaign for their wallet-friendly EasyBucks® meals, based on the idea of ‘Everyone’s talking about it.’

New energy mix on the cards

REI4P already has and will continue to yield thousands of employment opportunities

The online value of executive education in a Covid-19 world

Executive education courses further develop the skills of leaders in the workplace

Sisa Ntshona urges everyone to stay home, and consider travelling later

Sisa Ntshona has urged everyone to limit their movements in line with government’s request

SAB Zenzele’s special AGM postponed until further notice

An arrangement has been announced for shareholders and retailers to receive a 77.5% cash payout

20th Edition of the National Teaching Awards

Teachers are seldom recognised but they are indispensable to the country's education system

Awards affirm the vital work that teachers do

Government is committed to empowering South Africa’s teachers with skills, knowledge and techniques for a changing world