MPs give school catch-up plan a 'fail'
The Department of Basic Education was sent packing yesterday by angry MPs who rejected its catch-up plan for Limpopo schoolchildren affected by the textbook shortage.
The MPs described the plan as an "insult'' to the pupils and to parliament.
Briefing the basic education portfolio committee, Trish Watson of the department's special projects division outlined a plan to be implemented in Limpopo in line with a court order.
But MPs deemed the plan "vague", "nowhere near adequate" and as lacking in urgency.
The department and its minister, Angie Motshekga, have come under severe criticism over the failure to get textbooks to thousands of pupils more than halfway into the school year.
Even the ANC has condemned the failure. Secretary-general Gwede Mantashe said last week: "The NEC also considered the lack of delivery of books in Limpopo shocking and unacceptable, and believes whoever is found to be responsible must face stern action that might include criminal charges."
The catch-up plan offered by Motshekga's department yesterday included:
- Setting up boot camps in preparation for trial Grade 12 examinations that take place in September;
- Establishing a "Winnings Team" programme to support maths and science teaching at 590 underperforming schools; and
- Providing "Mind Gap" study guides in four subjects - life sciences, accounting, geography and economics.
The department said it also planned to create "war rooms" in each district of Limpopo, where schools would submit bi-weekly reports to the district, the province and to the national office.
But MPs dismissed the plan, saying it did not deal specifically with the challenges in Limpopo.
ANC MP Nomalungelo Gina proposed that the report be rejected and that the department be called before the committee again next week to provide further details about the impact of the textbook crisis on pupils and detailed plans to remedy the situation.
"It's really not what we were expecting. I propose that we leave this for today," she said.
Silence Makhubela, an ANC MP from Limpopo, said the plan did not address the specific requirements of the province, but sounded more like routine work the department undertook in all provinces to ensure pupils were up to date with the curriculum.
DA education spokesman Annette Lovemore was more scathing, saying the plan provided little detail on steps to be taken to ensure support for pupils affected by the textbook shortage.
"We reject this. It's nowhere near adequate and it's an insult to ourselves and the Limpopo pupils."
Lovemore said the two senior officials who made the presentation did not provide parliament with a coherent plan to get Limpopo out of the crisis.
"We were disappointed by the quality of the presentation today and by the fact that the two deputy directors-general were unable to answer a number of key questions posed by committee members. [These included] whether all pupils now have access to textbooks, whether additional tuition will be provided for affected pupils and how implementation 'of the plan] will be monitored," she said.
There have been numerous calls for the axing of Motshekga, whom many blame for the poor handling of the textbook crisis.
The minister, in turn, has blamed the crisis on sabotage by service providers contracted to deliver the books - this after thousands of books were found dumped.
The furore has led Motshekga to open a hotline to establish how many schools are still waiting for textbooks. She also announced that a plan was being drawn up to help affected pupils catch up academically.
But IFP MP Alfred Mpontshane called yesterday for heads to roll, saying the department did not display seriousness in the plan it presented to the parliamentary committee yesterday.
"I don't get the sense of the urgency of things. Please can we get that sense [and] of what actually went wrong. As a committee, we would like to hold those people accountable."
The acting deputy directorgeneral for Basic Education, Paddy Padayachee, was unable to answer many of the committee's questions, or shed light on what the impact of the crisis had been.
"Once we answer one question we have to answer all of them and some require a detailed response," he said.
These, Padayachee promised, would be responded to in writing.
"We take our presentation seriously. If there's any fall-out then we need to stand by it," he said.
Portfolio committee chairman Hope Malgas ordered that the department report to parliament again next week with a more detailed plan.
"What was expected was some kind of programme of action with the time frames attached."
She said a report following an oversight visit to the province would also be on the table when the committee and the department met again.
"In that report we are going to make people uncomfortable . By next week we should have a complete picture on Limpopo," Malgas said.