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Today, the Minister of Basic Education, Angie Motshekga, will reveal who has won the tender to print the workbooks that are developed in-house by the education department. Minister Motshekga promises that 12 million maths and literacy workbooks will be delivered to all Grade 1-6 students across the country by the first week of school next year. We support the roll-out of these workbooks as they should enhance teaching in the classroom. However, last year, the minister promised that the workbooks would be available at the beginning of the year. After a flawed tender process, the project was rolled back. Then in May of this year, her department told Parliament that the workbooks would be in students’ hands by September. Again, nothing. Now it’s late November and we’re told that next year’s batch will be printed and delivered by early January. These delays, along with other turbulent events this year, have set back the education of our children a great deal. They deserve better. What we are asking for from the minister is an indication from the department about when schools should be ready to receive the books, allowing them to plan ahead of schedule.
Schools have a right to know when they should expect to receive the books, and I will be writing to the minister on this matter, and raising it when we meet in the next few weeks.
We are concerned about what the publishing industry has had to say in the past about unfeasible timelines set out by the department. Last year the Publishers Association of South Africa (PASA) complained that there was not enough time to develop a proper tender offer, let alone print millions of books and deliver them in six weeks. The fact that this year’s September deadline also came and went without a word suggests that the provision of these workbooks is something of a moving target: the political and educational demand is high, but the development, printing and distribution has practical limits. I am worried that this latest promise will bump up against those same limits, as if the department has failed to learn from its past mistakes, thus causing further disruption to our education process.
Just as worryingly, it appears that the new workbooks may not be as robust as they were initially envisaged, perhaps to make it easier to print. In May of this year, the department said that there would be:
Two workbooks (literacy and numeracy) for Grades 1-6
Twelve workbooks in total
200 activity sheets per book (1 activity sheet per day)
The whole process from development to delivery to school will take five months.
Workbooks and lesson plans in all official languages will be in schools by end August/mid September 2010.
But recently, Prof Veronica MacKay, the department’s literacy expert, said that each workbook has just 64 worksheets. Whether this represents a scaling down of the original workbook concept is unclear, but we hope that the quality of the workbooks have not been compromised by the haste to get so many books out at once. Our children’s future prospects demand the best educational materials possible.
Here is my challenge to Minister Motshekga: since one of the aims of our education system is teach accountability for one’s actions, what consequences should the minister face if she fails to deliver on this workbook promise yet again? If the minister fails to deliver workbooks of quality by the first week of school next year, the minister should apologise to South Africa’s parents, teachers and pupils for failing to live up to her promises, and it would then be for President Zuma to review her performance. These would be the responsible thing to do. Another revised deadline won’t cut it for our students.