The WC textbook ‘scandal’

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braille reading REUTERS Eleven-year-old Kristin Turgeon reads her Braille copy of the final book in the Harry Potter series, "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows", at the National Braille Press in Boston, Massachusetts July 21, 2007. The Braille version of the book, which is 1100 pages long and weighs 12 pounds, was released at midnight to children gathered at the National Braille Press. REUTERS/Brian Snyder (UNITED STATES)

A school for visually impaired pupils says it has not received any Braille textbooks for the past two years. But the Western Cape Education Department says at least 118 books were delivered to the school earlier this year.

Eye Witness News reported on Thursday that Braille textbooks had not been delivered to the Athlone School for the Blind in Bellville South for two years.

Fletcher Fisher, principal of Athlone School for the Blind, told the Cape Times on Thursday that every school catering for visually impaired pupils in the country had been affected by the non-delivery of books.

The Cape Times was not able to establish on Thursday whether this was correct.

Fisher slammed the non-delivery of textbooks as “totally unacceptable”.

“This is unfair because each and every child has a right to education,” Fisher said.

He said there were about 420 pupils at the school, about 300 visually impaired, in Grades R to 12.

Fisher said teachers spent their free time translating books into Braille so they could be used in the classrooms.

“My staff sit after hours and on weekends to do the work. This is impacting negatively on their core business of teaching,” Fisher said.

“We sit in dire straits here. At the end of the day this is affecting performance.”

Department of Basic Education spokesman Panyaza Lesufi said: “Textbooks are bought by provinces.”

He asked that the Cape Times contact the provincial education department.

Western Cape Education Department spokesman Paddy Attwell said books had been delivered to the school.

“Delivery notes in our records show that Pionier Printers, the main printers in Braille in the country, are delivering textbooks in Braille to the Athlone School for the Blind on a continuous basis,” Attwell said.

“For example, during the period February 9 to March 19, 2012, Pionier delivered more than 118 textbooks to Athlone, consisting mainly of books for English and Afrikaans literature, Mathematics and Mathematical Literacy for Grades 10 to 12.”

There was one other school for visually impaired pupils in the Western Cape, Pioneer in Worcester.

“The school in Worcester has the largest Braille printing facility in the country and can produce books for their own purposes.”

He said the Basic Education Department was responsible for the procurement of books in Braille for the 22 schools for the blind in the country.

“The Western Cape Education Department previously assisted the Department of Basic Education in procuring these books. The Department of Basic Education announced recently that it would now manage the process on its own.

“The Western Cape Education Department agreed to assist because Pionier Printers is based at Pionier special school in Worcester.”

Attwell said books in Braille were expensive, between R800 and R20 000 each, and took time to produce.

He said the Western Cape Education Department allocated funding to special needs schools in terms of national norms and standards that apply specifically to special schools.

“The Athlone school has informed us that they prefer using these funds to print materials in Braille in-house, given the cost of buying these materials from other suppliers. The school has some capacity for printing its own materials in Braille.”

The issue was raised last week when it emerged that sighted books were delivered to a school for the visually impaired in Limpopo.

But the Department of Basic Education hit back, saying it was normal that schools for the visually impaired receive sighted workbooks as these were used for pupils with low vision. The department issued a statement last week which said that books for visually impaired pupils had not yet been ordered as it was still waiting for a quotation from the publishers. - Cape Times

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