Textbook dispute likened to family row

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Pretoria -

There appears to be confusion over how many textbooks for pupils are outstanding in Limpopo and exactly who does not have a book.

Lobby group Section27 and the Department of Basic Education have been at each other’s throats about non-delivery of some textbooks to schools in Limpopo. The lobby group says the department is failing the pupils, but the department says it has delivered most of the books which were ordered, while others are still in the post.

NGOs Basic Education for All and Section27 this week sought a Pretoria High Court urgent order compelling the department to deliver all outstanding school books, but it now says many of the issues have been answered by the education authorities in court papers.

The lobby groups told Judge Neil Tuchten on Thursday that the way forward would be for an audit to be held as to who did not have a textbook and at which school.

They proposed that the SA Human Rights Commission oversee the whole process.

But the department questioned who would pay for this costly exercise, which it said would take months to complete.

While the judge urged the parties for the second time this week to sit around a table and work out their differences, it appeared that there would be no solution before the schools reopened on Monday. Deputy Judge President Aubrey Ledwaba, meanwhile, allocated the parties two days – April 22 and 23 – to argue the matter on an urgent basis before another judge.

The issued has escalated to such a degree that the court papers now comprise more than 1 300 pages.

The urgent court simply could not deal with this lengthy and contentious matter, the judge said. He pointed out that the education authorities were of the opinion that learning would not come to a standstill while the dispute was being resolved, as teachers could in the meantime use blackboards to teach.

However, he had a “fatherly” talk with the parties, telling the applicants that the education authorities were saying they were trying their best to identify where the shortages were, in spite of budget and other constraints.

It is said that 38 schools are running short of textbooks, but this number is in dispute.

Judge Tuchten said this issue seemed to him to have a lot in common with a family dispute, where everyone had the best interest of the children at heart, but struggled to find a solution.

“The question is whether little Mpho has a reading book, who little Mpho is and how to get the book to her. The parties are in the best position to resolve this around a table.”

The judge said he knew there were a number of challenges in the Limpopo Education Department and that the national department had had to come to its rescue two years ago. But, he said, the department said it had meanwhile learnt lessons and was willing to meet the challenges.

Adila Hassim, for the applicants, said they accepted the department was not acting in bad faith, but the problem was that the system on the ground was faulty.

She said there were 385 000 books on order, which had not yet been delivered.

“They are on order. What must I do?” the judge asked.

Hassim said the applicants would be satisfied if the SA Human Rights Commission would conduct an audit to ascertain where books were still outstanding and would supervise the process of ensuring books were delivered.

Judge Tuchten said he could not order this as the budget had to come from the public purse, for which Parliament had to give the go-ahead.

The parties, meanwhile, indicated that they might find some common ground to resolve the issues.

Pretoria News


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