On 4 May 2012 SECTION27 and two other applicants, represented by the Centre for Applied Legal Studies (CALS) launched an urgent application against the Minister of Basic Education and the Limpopo Department of Education in relation to their failure to procure and deliver textbooks for learners throughout Limpopo. Learners in Grades R, 1, 2, 3 and 10 had gone half the year without any textbooks. In May 2012 textbooks for these learners had not been ordered and there was no indication as to when final orders for textbooks would be made.
The application was heard on 14 May 2012 and on 17 May 2012 Judge Kollapen held that the failure by the Department of Basic Education (“the DBE”) and the Limpopo Department of Education (“the Department”) to provide textbooks to learners throughout Limpopo is a violation of the right to a basic education, dignity and equality. He ordered the DBE and the Department to deliver textbooks to all schools in Limpopo by no later than 15 June 2012 and that a ‘catch-up plan’ must be formulated and a copy lodged with the court and the applicants by 8 June 2012.
A day before June 15th, the date specified by the court for completion of delivery of textbooks, a delegation from SECTION27 and the NASGB met with the Head of Limpopo Education Intervention Team. He then assured us that delivery would be completed at latest by the 20th of June. This was not to be the case.
On 21 June 2012, SECTION27 and a senior delegation from the Department of Basic Education, acting with the authority of the Minster, entered into a settlement agreement to be made an order of court where it was agreed that;
- That all textbooks would be delivered to all schools by or on Wednesday 27th June.
- The DBE would provide SECTION27 with written updates of the progress of the delivery on Saturday June 23; Monday June 25; and Tuesday June 26.
- That an official DBE circular would be issued on Friday 22nd June to all school principals informing them of this and requesting them to make arrangements with learners to return to school on Thursday 28th June to collect their textbooks. This would ensure that learners are able to study over the coming school holidays.
- That details of the ‘catch up plan’, including extra tuition and teacher support, would be developed by the DBE with input from SECTION27. As required by the court order, the DBE would report to the court on the implementation of the plan.
- That a joint public media statement would be made on the conclusion of delivery.
Summary of SECTION27’s requests to the DBE:
1. We call for the DBE to establish an independent verification and inquiry process regarding the delivery and distribution of books to learners. We request that a person/organisation be appointed within two days and that his/her report on the delivery of the books be made available by Friday July 6th and that his/her report on what caused the basic education department to fail on such a basic functional requirement.
2. We call for an investigation into the company EduSolutions as well as into text book and work book corruption more generally.
3. We call on the Minister and Director General of the DBE to work in partnership with public interest non-governmental organisations. On behalf of SECTION27, the Legal Resources Centre, the Centre for Child Law, the Centre for Applied Legal Studies, the National Association of School Governing Bodies and Equal Education, we repeat our call for a constructive meeting with the Minister.
SECTION27’s Comment and Assessment:
SECTION27 believes that the Department of Basic Education has made a serious effort to ensure delivery of text books, although our agreement has not been without challenges:
- The circular to principals was issued as agreed, although we have no knowledge whether learners have been notified to collect their text books. It is important to verify this.
- We have since the settlement agreement, received progress reports from the Department for the dates of June 22, 23, 25, 26 on delivery for Grade 10 textbooks. Several of these reports were late but we have accepted their apology.
- However, to date, no detailed progress reports in respect of delivery of textbooks to primary schools have been provided, despite numerous requests. This is a matter of concern. Grade 10 learners face exams. But foundation phase learners will undergo the Annual National Assessment in September and also need their books urgently. On 26th June we were informed by the Head of the Intervention Team via sms that delivery of textbooks for Grades R, 1, 2 and 3 was 100% complete. However, at the same time we continue to receive reports from some primary schools that they have still received no textbooks at all. This must therefore be verified.
- The final progress report from the DBE, received by us at 1.15pm today, reports that the delivery is 99% complete for grade 10. We have not had time to study this report in detail. However, we fear that some of these reports may not accurate. For example, on 26th June we spoke to one school, which is recorded by the DBE as having received 99.7% of its textbooks. The principal confirmed that no books have been delivered. We have a few minutes ago heard from a primary school that has no text books.
- For these reasons we are calling for the DBE to establish an independent verification and inquiry process regarding the delivery and distribution of books to learners. We request that a person/organisation be appointed within two days and that his/her report on the delivery of the books be made available by Friday July 6th and that his/her report on what caused the education department to fail on such a basic functional requirement.
This has been a sad saga with an unknown cost to learners. It is not over because the ‘catch up plan’ must be seen to be implemented and the DBE must still report monthly to the Gauteng North High Court on its progress.
We acknowledge the co-operation of the DBE in the last week and the efforts of senior officials. But it came very late, after missing several of their own deadlines and after an unnecessary denial before the court and media that the issue of textbooks for learners was a serious one. In court papers, for example, the DBE claimed the textbooks were unimportant and the catch-up plan would be “a monumental waste of time.” Such callousness must stop.
In addition, it must be noted that this crisis took place despite the existence of a Section100 (1)(b) intervention whereby the National department had taken over the provincial administration in December last year. We accept the bonafides and necessity of this intervention. But once this step is taken the national government is required to assume responsibility for ensuring the minimum standard of service delivery and to uphold the right to basic education. This is a duty that the national department bears even in the absence of a section 100 intervention.
Throughout these proceedings the DBE has sometimes attempted to shift the burden of their failure onto principals, educators, parents and learners who have already been prejudiced by the lack of textbooks. This is unfair and inappropriate. We need shared responsibility and maximum collaboration in realising the learners’ rights to a basic education.
We believe that to prevent its recurrence the ‘text book’ crisis must be publicly investigated by the DBE and responsible people must be held accountable. Corruption and mismanagement in the education system is disadvantaging millions of black learners and killing parts of our country. Talk of ‘economic freedom’ is hypocritical when the actions of our government deny young people the skills and learning to become their own economic liberators.
We call for an investigation into the company EduSolutions as well as into text book and work book corruption more generally. We are authoritatively told that the DBE budgets and spends R4.7billion for books annually, but that publishers’ revenue is less than R2billion. We call on both the DBE and the Publishers Association to confirm or deny this with evidence. If tens of millions of Rands are being lost in corruption we must find the thieves, prosecute and imprison them.
Finally, we call on the Minister and Director General of the DBE to work in partnership with public interest non-governmental organisations. Court action will be avoided when there is honesty about problems, a readiness to admit them and a joint commitment to overcome them. On behalf of SECTION27, the Legal Resources Centre, the Centre for Child Law, the Centre for Applied Legal Studies, the National Association of School Governing Bodies and Equal Education law Centre, we repeat our call for a constructive meeting with the Minister. An emergency plan to educate and skill our young people, through the realisation of their right to basic education, cannot be delayed a minute longer.
Enquiries: Contact Mark Heywood on 011 356 4103 or 083 634 8806 or Nikki Stein on 011 356 4100 or 082 528 7232.