Textbook woes impact rights

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Johannesburg - The failure of provinces to adequately deliver textbooks to school pupils in 2012 affected their right to education, the SA Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) said on Thursday.

“The children's enjoyment of the right of basic education was severely affected,” commissioner Lindiwe Mokate said.

She was briefing journalists in Johannesburg at the release of the commission's investigative report into the delivery of textbooks to schools in 2012.

The investigation took place after widespread media reports in 2012 indicated major shortcomings in textbook delivery in Limpopo.

“In response to these reports, Parliament requested the commission to report on actions it intended taking to address this matter,” said Mokate.

The commission then conducted a preliminary assessment into whether schools in other provinces faced similar problems.

While the preliminary study showed other provinces beyond Limpopo also experienced problems, the data collected was not sufficient for the SAHRC to make a conclusive finding and recommend remedial action.

As such, the SAHRC constituted a national investigative hearing into the matter, which began in mid-2013 and ended early this year.

The investigation showed there were vast disparities in textbook delivery between the provinces.

There were a number of “general and overarching range of underlying causes that account for challenges faced by the country”, said Mokate.

These included:

* communication infrastructure at rural schools being inadequate, affecting their ability to communicate with provincial education departments;

* schools either ordering textbooks late, ordering the wrong amount of textbooks, or in some cases not ordering textbooks at all;

* self-governing schools (section 21 schools) refusing to allow the respective provincial education department to purchase textbooks on their behalf, which affected timely textbook procurement and payment;

* provincial education departments not having accurate data and information relating to the number of schools in their province, their language of instruction, or student enrolment at each school;

* poor budget management at provincial education department level, noted as one of the biggest problems among the nine provinces; and

* inadequate procurement systems where some provinces had a centralised system while others, plus the national education department, did not have a “credible” system.

The commission recommended:

* an independent national audit of textbooks procurement and delivery processes, to be undertaken by the basic education department;

* a comprehensive data system be established to track, record, and update data related to the number of schools in the provinces, and the number of pupils in schools, districts, and provinces;

* conducting a feasibility study to consider developing a national system capable of working with existing provincial delivery systems;

* discipline measures to increase levels of accountability of school principals for the quick and correct procurement of learning materials;

* regulatory measures to monitor private service providers, which Mokate said could not “be let loose to do as they see fit”;

* rural schools to have proper communication infrastructure and equipment installed; and

* a comprehensive and cohesive plan to address the textbook needs of pupils with disabilities.

The SAHRC's next step would be to report to Parliament on its findings and its recommendations, and meeting policy makers in national and provincial governments.

Sapa


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