Move to end textbooks chaos
Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga is to strip the provinces of the right to procure their schools' textbooks.
She said this was being done in an attempt to save the government hundreds of millions of rands and prevent teaching time being wasted at the beginning of the school year.
Motshekga announced in parliament that an agency would be established in her department to centralise the procurement of teaching materials such as textbooks.
"We will appoint a national agency to manage the central procurement of teaching-support materials, to deliver on our promise of one textbook per child per subject," said Motshekga.
Teaching at public schools has for years been compromised by the late or non-delivery of textbooks and the annual delays in the supply of essential teaching aids.
Motshekga said the aim of the new agency was to cut out the many middlemen in the procurement of textbooks, which had led to an unnecessary rise in the price of the books.
"We are saying to the Treasury that money for books has to be ring-fenced. [That it is not to be] used for anything but books, even if it goes to a section 21 school."
Section 21 schools, the former model C schools, decide how they will spend their allocations from the Department of Basic Education.
Motshekga said the centralisation of textbook purchasing would ensure that teaching materials arrived at schools on time at the beginning of each school year.
"The most serious inefficiencies were around procurement and the value chain. There were too many actors in between, such that, by the time the book reached the school, we had paid almost three times the price," she said.
"The agency is going to look at all those inefficiencies and mainly they are around procurement and using our power as a state to see if we can get better deals."
It is not known when the new agency will begin operating, but Motshekga said it would be during the 2011-2012 financial year.
Provinces would from now on be responsible only for the distribution of textbooks to schools, she said.
Her announcement was made against a backdrop of uncertainty about whether millions of primary and high school pupils will get their 2012 textbooks on time.
Earlier this year The Times reported that a series of missed deadlines, and the department's indecisiveness about the content of textbooks, is likely to tarnish the 2012 school year.
At that time, department spokesman Granville Whittle said the department had budgeted R4.4-billion for the development of the textbooks, and "risk management plans" were in place to "ensure that the process is concluded in time".
The director-general of Basic Education, Bobby Soobrayan, said the department expected to make considerable savings from the centralised buying of textbooks.