Former Gauteng Education MEC Barbara Creecy watches a pupil use a tablet in class. File picture: Nokuthula Mbatha
Former Gauteng Education MEC Barbara Creecy watches a pupil use a tablet in class. File picture: Nokuthula Mbatha

Johannesburg - The haphazard delivery of tablets to schools as part of the Gauteng Department of Education’s eLearning Solution programme has been dubbed an election gimmick gone wrong.

Late last year, the provincial departments of education and finance launched the programme. The goal was to make the province’s public schools wi-fi hot spots and arm each pupil and teacher with a tablet.

Under the programme, formerly known as the Gauteng Online Schools Project (GoL), just over 1 500 of the province’s estimated 2 200 public schools got computer labs with 25 workstations each.

Now, under the eLearning Solution banner, the Gauteng Department of Finance procured 88 000 tablets. This was done through a tender awarded to Huawei Technologies, a Chinese company with ICT operations globally.

The tablets cost the department R289 million. The tender for setting up and managing the programme’s core network and providing internet connectivity cost R107m and was awarded to CloudSeed, the same company that built the GoL labs. Combined, the two tenders cost about R392m.

The delivery of the tablets started when schools opened this year and they each received 40 tablets.

The Star visited several of these schools to get a sense of how they were using the tablets.

The principal of a primary school in Soweto said she believed the only reason her school still had the tablets and had not been broken into was because she and other staff members keep the tablets in their cars.

“Some schools in our area, especially the old ones, only have two small rooms as admin blocks, so we can’t store the tablets in there – it’s not safe.

“If we were to keep the tablets in the computer labs, we’d basically be inviting the criminals to come in and help themselves. Our lab has been broken into countless times, but we haven’t had a break-in since the tablets were delivered.

“I think the criminals know we don’t keep them at the school because other schools have been broken into and had their tablets stolen,” she said.

A primary school in Germiston was not so lucky. The school was broken into earlier this month.

“The robbers came through the roof and cut all the alarm cables. The walk-in safe was ground open and all our computers, laptops and money were stolen,” a teacher said.

“One of the police officers who came said it felt like déjà vu because she’s seen the exact same thing happen to other schools. She said we were the 15th school that’s been broken into around the Germiston, Alberton and Boksburg area.”

“The schools received tablets for the learners to get a better education and it’s as if the robbers knew that and target all these schools,” the teacher said.

She said their school’s tablets weren’t stolen because they weren’t kept at the administration block and had been handed to some teachers for safekeeping.

“The damage robbers did was tremendous and we don’t think the public is aware of what is going on. We really think it is a disgrace that while we are trying to teach children, these crimes take place one after the other,” the teacher said.

At a school in the Vaal area that offers grades R to 12, staff said having 40 tablets for the whole school was impractical.

“We were told the focus should be on grades 7, 8 and 9 in maths and English. Even if we only focus on those grades, it’s still not enough because we have multiple classes in each grade,” said a teacher.

“We try to divide the tablets and set aside 15 for the Grade 7 classes and 25 for Grades 8 and 9. In a class of 40 to 50 kids, it’s a problem because it means the learners have to share a tablet and other children just watch while someone else is using the tablet. It slows down the learning process,” he said.

“So we teach the children in groups. You teach one group one thing and next time, you teach another group the same thing and the group you taught first would have to wait while the second group is being taught,” the teacher said.

The principal said apart from the limited number of tablets, they didn’t know what the procedure was when a tablet was damaged or stolen, so they tried to find out about insuring them.

“We were looking around for quotes but a district official said we shouldn’t worry because the tablets were insured by the department. He said we’d only have to pay R2 000 excess for a tablet, which doesn’t make any sense,” she said.

The principal also raised her concern over the fact that they couldn’t charge the tablets properly because they didn’t have ports or plugs to charge them at the same time.

This was the same issue that the principal from the primary school in Soweto raised; and she added that the tablets didn’t have protective covers.

“We don’t know how we’re going to charge these things. How do we move them from one class to another? We didn’t budget for this and the covers. Some schools were told to buy the covers themselves but schools don’t have an eLearning Solutions budget,” she said.

“They just gave us these tablets and didn’t tell us what the procedure is if anything happens. They were rushing for the elections and dropped them on us. I called other schools to ask what they’d been told and no one had a clue.”

This month, the Department of Finance issued two tenders: one for the provision of pouches for 90 000 tablets; the other for lockable trolleys for charging them.

When asked why these items were only being procured once schools had already received the tablets, Education Department spokeswoman Phumla Sekhonyane said the department didn’t have the money in the previous financial year.

On the insurance issue, she said: “Schools are not required to pay any amount for the insurance of these devices. In the event of theft or damage, the school must open a case of theft and report this to the provincial government call centre for the tablet to be blacklisted and arrangements made for its replacement. “The department is in the process of replacing tablets currently.”

Sekhonyane could not say how many tablets had been stolen.

The Star