How to stop the rot
An investigation into the failure of the Limpopo department of education to deliver textbooks to millions of pupils has come up with bold ways of dealing with the crisis.
In addition to making several recommendations to the Department of Basic Education, former Higher Education director-general Mary Metcalfe yesterday advised on how to save the province's education system from another textbook fiasco - if not complete collapse - next year.
Months after the plight of Limpopo pupils was exposed, Metcalfe announced a basket of reforms the province needs to implement urgently, including intensifying monitoring by the national Department of Education.
In her report "Verification of textbook deliveries in Limpopo", Metcalfe proposes radical intervention in the province's growing education crisis.
The Limpopo education department was one of five provincial departments placed under national administration in December.
Central to several of Metcalfe's recommendations is that the department be subjected to further micro-management and that all current textbook distribution contracts be reviewed and amended to "avoid [a repetition of] this situation".
"It is urgent that rapid and efficient mechanisms be put in place ... to facilitate the recovery and delivery of books ..."
The report, released jointly in Johannesburg yesterday by the Department of Basic Education and human rights interest group Section 27, found that:
"Reckless" overspending by the Limpopo department of education led to failure to order textbooks - the education budget for 2011-2012 had been exhausted by the end of last year;
Limpopo schools have the poorest communications infrastructure in the country;
Warehouses belonging to the department had thousands of textbooks in storage from previous years that had not been delivered - an investigation into this has been ordered; and
At least 33000 schools in five districts in Limpopo had not received Grade 10 or Grade 11 textbooks as of Wednesday.
Metcalfe was unable to make an accurate assessment of how many books had reached schools, but said it was a "concern".
Metcalfe's report, the recommendations of which are to be implemented by Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga, identifies a number of shortcomings in textbook procurement and a breakdown in the system due to the "non-availability of school personnel".
Metcalfe stays clear of apportioning blame but she calls for the textbook delivery SMS line to be taken over by the national Department of Education and that SMSs and the responses to them be reviewed weekly until all queries have been resolved.
Metcalfe recommends "immediate intervention to improve connectivity to schools".
But even though Metcalfe gives practical advice on how to deal with the textbooks fiasco, her report might not be able to prevent a recurrence of the crisis because the department has already tapped into next year's budget to purchase books for this year.
Section 27, which took the department to court to force it to deliver textbooks, has warned that the Limpopo textbooks crisis is likely to recur next year.
Executive director of Section 27 Mark Heywood has asked where the money will come from that will be needed to deal with the ripple effect on textbook acquisitions.
"It is clear from this and other reports that the Limpopo education department is rotten, riven with corruption and incapable of meeting its constitutional obligation to learners," said Heywood.
Section 27 wants the department to be "cleaned out" and called for education MEC Dickson Masemola to be fired.
The Department of Basic Education reported on June 28 that 98% of textbooks had been delivered - this was disputed by Section 27.
The report shows that, in fact, only 15% of the textbooks had been delivered on June 27 and, by Wednesday, 22% of schools were still waiting for their textbooks.
As of Wednesday, Metcalfe's verification team had found no proof of delivery of textbooks for Grades 10 and 11 to over 33000 schools in five districts (Capricorn, Greater Sekhukhune, Mopani, Vhembe and Waterberg).
The team found stacks of unopened boxes of undelivered textbooks issued in recent years. It said these books should be put to good use in schools, "especially in the light of the poor availability of textbooks".
Late last month, hundreds of books were found dumped in the province. Other books were found dumped in a river early this month.