Education dept denies burying damning report on schools

The basic education department has denied suppressing the 2013 National Education Evalu­ation and Development Unit (Needu) report.

It said in a press release last week that just because there was no special ceremony for its release, did not mean the report was being hidden.

The department also lashed out at the nongovernmental organisation, Equal Education, accusing it of “sowing false discourse” around the release of the report.

Departmental spokesperson Elijah Mhlanga told the Mail & Guardian in an email on Tuesday that the department “produces various other reports and the fact that there was no ceremony to release this particular report doesn’t mean the department was hiding something”.

“There’s no reason to spend money on the research and not make it public.”

He did not, however, respond to questions asking where, when and in what format the report was made public, as stated by the department in its press release, and why the report was still not on the department’s website.

The M&G published an article about the report on April 17 after it was leaked to the newspaper by a source who said the department “actively prevented the report from being released because of how damning it is”.

Demand for accountability
The report contains data from visits by Needu officials to 219 rural primary schools in 34 districts in all provinces in the first half of the 2013 school year. It described, among other things, rampant cronyism, bad sanitation, union interference and teacher provision processes that ignored policy.

A previous Needu report, which was about teaching and learning in the foundation phase in 2012, was published on the department’s website the following year. But the M&G could not find the 2013 report and the department did not respond to requests two weeks ago for help locating it.

In an April 23 press release, following the M&G’s report, Equal Education said it was “seriously concerned that Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga did not make the 2013 Needu report available to the public” and that she had “sweeping power over Needu from the outset”. 

It also said no attempt had been made by the department to “develop Needu’s capacity or independence”. It demanded Motshekga “officially release” the report and “explain her decision to suppress it”.

The department hit back the next day, saying the report “is in actual fact a document that was made public from the time when the first report was released and its findings have been carefully considered and implemented as part of the programmes that have been put in place to create a better education for all”.

‘False discourse’
It said Equal Education’s comments were “both false and proposes to divert our attention from the real issues that affect the schools where 12 million of our future leaders are taught daily”.

“The department commissions and releases many reports every financial year and will not be dictated to by Equal Education on how to go about reviewing or implementing these reports. Our work far exceeds their whims, which we unfortunately cannot meet. We are a department committed to the nation. Not to one nongovernmental organisation that clearly seeks to sow false discourse instead of engaging us meaningfully,” it read.

Equal Education then posted on its Facebook page on April 25 that the report “clearly wasn’t in the public domain”.

“Why was there no media release of the report? Statement? No departmental website paper trail of its release? Why could it not be found on Google even two weeks ago? … Why would a member of Parliament ask Minister Motshekga in Parliament when it was going to be released if it was already available? … This is a clumsy way of being a spin doctor.”

Nic Spaull, an education researcher in the Research on Socioeconomic Policy group at Stellenbosch University, told the M&G on Tuesday that to the best of his knowledge “the report was not publicly available until last week when it was leaked by the M&G”.

“I’ve been at conferences this year where Needu officials said that they didn’t know when the report was going to be released but hopefully soon. I tried to find the report in March this year for my own research and couldn’t find it online. So I’m not sure what the department means when they say that it was already released.”

Mhlanga told the M&G in his Tuesday response that the department “knows which of its employees leaked the report and that the matter is being dealt with internally”.

“An individual in the department decided to give you a certain version of the report for reasons known only to that person. We happen to know who it is and we have our suspicions as to why they did that.”

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Victoria John
Victoria studied journalism, specialising in photojournalism, at Rhodes University from 2004 to 2007. After traveling around the US and a brief stint in the UK she did a year's internship at The Independent on Saturday in Durban. She then worked as a reporter for the South African Press Association for a year before joining the Mail & Guardian as an education reporter in August 2011.

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